The Carter Center is pleased to observe Zambia's first tripartite elections since 1964. This is the Center's second election observation mission in Zambia, having observed the historic 1991 multi-party election.
In October 2001, after receiving an invitation from the Government of Zambia, the Center opened a field office in Lusaka with a field director and five long-term observers. During the past two months, the observers visited all nine provinces and 47 of the 72 district centers and have met with a range of stakeholders, including representatives of political parties, government officials, media, election staff, police, faith-based organizations and civil society groups at both the provincial and district levels.
In a pre-election statement issued on 13 December, the Center's observers reported a number of problems that might impact the conduct of the elections. Among the relevant issues raised were misuse of state resources, a lack of enforcement mechanisms for the electoral code of conduct, unbalanced media reporting and access, and the need for greater voter education. The report also noted a lack of transparency and openness on the part of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) and inadequate logistical arrangements during voter registration process and in preparation for the polls.
On 22 December, the long-term observers were joined by about 30 short-term delegates to observe the voting, counting and tabulation processes. The Center's delegation is led by former Nigeria Head of State Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, former Benin President Nicéphore Soglo, and former Tanzania Prime Minister Judge Joseph Warioba. On election day and the day after, the Center's observers were deployed to all nine provinces, visiting over 190 polling stations and about 20 constituency tabulation centers.
Although the voting is now over, the processes of tabulation and verification of final results are ongoing. The Center will continue to observe these processes in the days ahead. Since the electoral process is not over, it is too early to evaluate the election as a whole. After the conclusion of the electoral process, the Center will issue a more comprehensive report.
Our delegation noted several positive aspects about the process, as well as a number of inadequacies and areas of concern, as follows.
Peaceful Voting and High Turnout
The Carter Center commends Zambians for the peaceful conduct of the elections and the determination shown by election staff and voters alike on what was a very long election day. The fact that the entire process transpired peacefully is a testament to the Zambian people.
Despite pre-election fears of voter apathy, we witnessed tens of thousands of voters exercising their democratic rights to elect their political representatives, many of them queuing from very early in the morning into the night. Our teams were truly impressed by the turnout, which far exceeded expectations.
We also observed many dedicated polling officials who executed their responsibilities in a professional manner. In most places we observed polling stations that opened on time and with their full staff complement and necessary election materials. We also note the strong presence of many party agents and observers on election day. For the most part, party agents and observers performed tasks with careful attention to all aspects of the polling process. At most polling stations, there was generally good communication between electoral officials and party agents and observers.
Finally, we applaud the transparent counting of ballots in the polling station, which reduced opportunities for manipulation of the count.
In spite of these positive notes, we are concerned about several aspects of the electoral process, some of which stem from the pre-electoral period.
The Voting Process
While many polling stations opened on time, it is important to note about one quarter of the stations we visited opened late, suggesting that the ECZ was unprepared for the high turnout. The failure to deliver ballot boxes, proper and sufficient ballot papers, voting booths and other election materials appears to have been widespread, in spite of favorable weather conditions.
In addition, although polling station staff persons were generally competent, they had difficulty processing voters quickly. Consequently, many voters were forced to endure long lines and extremely long waits (some as long as 12 hours or more) in order to cast their ballots. Once inside the polling station, voters faced a cumbersome voting process, further slowed by the tripartite elections.
Most of these election day problems were avoidable with better planning and transparency. We observed certain polling stations did not have adequate polling materials or staffing to accommodate the number of voters. For example, the University of Zambia had over 4,000 registered voters at a single polling station while stations with less than 500 voters were given identical materials and staff. Such disparities served to deepen skepticism and frustration among the electorate.
These predictable election day problems were further compounded by the ad hoc decision to extend voting hours. Our observers noted more than one third of polling stations closed late. Without adequate communication of this decision by the ECZ to the local electoral officers, few presiding officers could with certainty say when their polling station would close, creating confusion among voters.
Not only did this lead to arbitrary decision-making by presiding officers (and hence unequal treatment across different polling stations), it was also far more difficult to police the voting process at night. Many polling stations had insufficient or no light, which hindered the security of the vote and in some cases eliminated the ability to vote.
The problems of delayed poll openings and closings, long queues and slow processing caused tremendous frustration among voters and is likely to have contributed to voter disenfranchisement, as fatigue and exhaustion caused some voters to give up. However, most voters indicated to us they intended to remain to cast their ballots, displaying impressive patience and resilience in the face of these difficulties.
Several of our observers noted the presence of officials from the Office of the President inside the polling centers, which seemed to have an intimidating effect on some voters.
Counting and Tabulation
The processing of results is a major area of concern in the immediate post-election period. Because the counting started late (in some locations, more than 18 hours after the station opened) many stakeholders faced exhaustion. In addition, while party agents and observers were present, they were not able in many cases to adequately inspect the ballot papers as they were classified and counted by polling officials. Moreover, while polling staff and observers showed great determination to discharge their duties properly, widely varied practices were observed in the counting process.
The Carter Center has more serious concerns about the tabulation of results at constituency centers, and the relaying of these results to ECZ Lusaka. There was widespread fatigue on the part of all stakeholders, as well as inadequate control over who entered the tabulation centers and insufficient transparency. In some places the tabulation process waited until all ballot boxes were received; in others, tabulation began as each box was received. The process was very slow and in some cases the Returning Officers did not ensure that all aspects of the process were correctly administered.
In general, the tabulation process was chaotic, often occurring in inadequate and insecure premises. In one instance, independent observers discovered ballot boxes had been diverted to a private office inside a counting center (Munali) without the presence of party agents and observers. Although this incident was addressed, we heard several reports of similar occurrences. While these may have been a careless error, they raise legitimate suspicions among the electorate.
Announcement of Results
We have received complaints from all of the major opposition political parties about the coverage of the elections in the public media. Results were delayed, or released sporadically, and there was an apparent bias in terms of which results were announced and how they are conveyed to the public. In the first 24 hours following the close of the polls, the ECZ and state-owned TV announced mainly the results of constituencies won by MMD despite the fact that results from non-MMD constituencies were also available.
The slow pace of ECZ reporting of preliminary election results raises serious questions, especially given the closeness of the presidential race. We were told by ECZ officials results would be released immediately and the ECZ would serve simply as a clearinghouse for the official results submitted by the Returning Officers from the constituency tabulation centers.
However, there appear to be delays in the transmission of constituency-level results to the ECZ and in the release of this information to the public, which is only done after the ECZ verifies the results sent from the constituencies. This slows the process unnecessarily, since according to the Electoral Law, the task of verification lies solely in the purview of the Returning Officer, not with the ECZ.
Given concerns about transparency in the tabulation process, we believe all sides should strive to provide for maximum transparency in the post-election period; particularly in the time remaining before the declaration of the final presidential results by the Chief Justice. Every opportunity should be pursued to check vote tabulations from alternate sources. To this end, the ECZ needs to ensure timely access to official results at all levels so these can be cross checked against the poll results and tabulation results collected by party agents and observers. We hope concerns about election results can be resolved openly and political parties and observers will work together so all sides can accept the final result with confidence. Equally necessary is a thorough review of the administrative processes for voting.
The Center will continue to monitor the tabulation process, as well as any forthcoming deliberations concerning complaints or protests. After the process is concluded, the Center will issue a comprehensive final report covering the observation of the entire electoral process.