By MUBANGA LUCHEMBE
THE UPND and its opposition alliance partners claim that online voter pre-registration and the voters register clean-up processes being and to be conducted by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) respectively, would result in election fraud. Are they right? And how do the processes actually work? An online voter pre-registration exercise during a Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented. So a lot of Zambians plan to pre-register to vote using online facilities to stay safe.
But UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema attacked online voter pre-registration and the subsequent voters register clean-up processes saying these raised the risk of fraud. So, how do the online voter pre-registration and the voters register clean-up processes work? Why does the UPND leader hate the idea? And why did the UPND top leaders and their compromised NGOs opt to legally challenge the ECZ management’s decision over these in the High and Constitutional courts?
Besides these, I have lots of other questions. Lately I have been wondering why it is that UPND’s perennial post-electoral allegation of rigging in Zambia gets more attention than the continuing hangover of its 2016 pre-election age-cheating tactics employed by its zealots during the mobile NRC issuance and mobile voter registration exercises for first-time voters in Southern, North-Western and Western provinces.
This is all the more strange if we consider that historically, ethnically, politically and socio-economically the three known UPND strongholds could serve as a metaphor for Zambia’s ethnocentric predicament due to UPND’s dangerous tendency to balkanise the country into ethnic blocks as exclusive fiefdoms of narrow-minded, xenophobic chieftains masquerading as presidential candidates over the years. If ECZ gets the online voter pre-registration and the voters register clean-up right, ECZ can get Zambia’s unity in ethno-diversity right. Fail them and ECZ fails Zambia.
Related to this, I have also been wondering why it is that underage first-time voters of 2016 in the three known UPND strongholds should have faith in tribalism, or believe that there is a nationwide Zambian consciousness that looks beyond tribal differences and partisan borders to find some scrap of common humanity when the same 2016 underage first-time voters themselves are now languishing in self-inflicted poverty within and along these artificially-created partisan borders because UPND-elected civic leaders and lawmakers in those areas have vehemently vowed not to work with the current government whenever socio-economic developmental projects are being implemented.
Why should they have hope in the old voters register when the ECZ has already invested in modern information technology and awarded Smartmatic International Holdings a contract worth US$16 million to conduct a biometric voter registration programme? Besides, this programme is expected to update the voters roll ahead of next year’s general elections, with Smartmatic tasked with supplying, delivering, installing, training and commissioning 26,000 biometric voter registration kits. Known and unknown to many, the company was previously selected by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2010 to create the country’s first biometric voter register and worked in Zambia again in 2015/16.
Similarly, why should PF supporters domiciled in UPND strongholds, suffering from the 2016 double tragedy of low voter turnout and low votes cast in favour of their candidates, believe in a Cambridge Analytica-contaminated voter register that consists of cobwebs of deceit? Why should they not reject the old voters register and even the political party whose leader was involved in murky dealings with Cambridge Analytica?
The charts herewith of 2016 post-election data gleaned from the ECZ official website, show how Cambridge Analytica’s third-party persuasion techniques exacerbated the UPND strongholds’ long-established voting pattern based on ethnicity mostly by the then underage first-time voters. But democracy entails that during elections there must be a leveled playing field that enables equal participation of competitors that must result in a free and fair election.
Strange as it may sound human rights groups in Zambia, have joined the fray and become wholly fixated with the ECZ cases more than in any of their previous campaigns. Exploiting all available avenues, the human rights fraternity have filed numerous cases in the Zambian Constitutional and High courts in their vain attempts to block the ECZ from sanitizing the Cambridge Analytica-contaminated voters register.
It is obvious that the UPND-led alliance partnership is using the civil societies against the ECZ online voter pre-registration process and the idea of reviewing and updating the voters register to bolster Hichilema’s political fortunes. This open bias even comes with brazen warnings by their cadres that choices have consequences, but try as they do, the warnings will not help their agenda. If anything, they may just turn the Zambian voting public against the UPND-led alliance candidates.
However, the big question remains: Why is UPND worried about the voters register clean-up exercise if electoral malpractices must be stopped which starts with the register’s review and update? Probably UPND top leaders are suffering from suspected atychiphobia – fear of failure or scelerophobia – fear of crime or a combination of both.
Now if ECZ could only, cajole them into agreeing to review and update the voters register because a lot has happened, people have died, people have internally relocated and geographical settlements and setups have changed over the years. Above all, let them know why the exercise is also meant to remove Cambridge Analytica’s cobwebs of deceit from the voters register.
By MUBANGA LUCHEMBE