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Slow Voter Registration “risks disfranchising” Electors in Zambia’s Polls: Jesuit Scholars

Zambia's President, Edgar Lungu registering at Chawama school.

Officials of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) in Zambia have expressed concerns about the slow pace in the ongoing voter registration exercise.

In their Tuesday, November 24 statement shared with ACI Africa, JCTR officials call on the leadership of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to take action to avoid “disfranchising” eligible voters.

“If the voter registration exercise is not done properly, ECZ risks disfranchising the majority of the people that would like to vote in next year’s elections,” the Jesuit scholars at the Lusaka-based research institution say.

ECZ leadership aims at registering some nine million electors during the November 9 to December 12 nationwide exercise.  

JCTR officials are concerned that the voter registration initiative might fail to meet the target.

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“In over 10 days a paltry 1,000,000 people have registered as voters meaning that on the balance of scale, only 2,000,000 will be captured in the remaining 20 or so days,” they say in the statement signed by JCTR Executive Director, Fr. Alex Muyebe.

They highlight some of the constraints inhibiting the exercise, including the constant breakdown of registration kits, shortage of manpower and slowness of the connectivity of the kits to the Internet, especially in rural areas.

In some registration centers, the kits take too long to respond to the fingerprints, a phenomenon that slows down the process, JCTR officials say and explain, “People with fingers that are hard or cracked as a result of the jobs they do are having difficulties to have their fingerprints taken and this sometimes takes over three hours to verify.”

“The new voters’ card is too light compared to previous ones,” the Jesuit scholars note.

Additionally, JCTR officials further observe, because of the many hours of waiting before being enlisted as electors, “majority of people would rather go to carry out their daily chores for economic survival as opposed to staying on the voter registration queue for the whole day,”

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“These challenges can easily be dealt with otherwise many people will not be able to register due to the long queues and the time limitation,” officials of Jesuit Fr. Muyebe-led research institution say in their November 24 statement sent to ACI Africa.

As a way forward, they suggest a raft of measures that the leadership of ECZ can employ to ensure a faster and more efficient voter registration process. 

“ECZ should ensure adequate manpower is deployed to all registration centers to ensure more people are captured,” they say and urge ECZ officials to “revisit the issue of equipment (kits) so that even where more staff is deployed, this must be in line with the number of kits that are being used.”

They say that “more staff but without kits might not be the best option” and advice that ECZ leadership mobilizes “more registration kits so that more registration officers can be engaged to ensure more people are captured in one day.”

“As a matter of importance,” the Jesuit scholars urge ECZ officials to “consider extending the voter registration period by a minimum of two weeks to cover up for the lost time due to breakdowns of the testing kits at registration centers.”

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Last week, members of the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG) called on ECZ officials to enhance “transparency” in the voter registration process, especially in “correctional facilities.” 

“CCMG calls on the ECZ to enhance the transparency of this exercise by immediately releasing the procedures that will guide this exercise and ensuring accessibility to correctional facilities where registration will take place by observers and party representatives,” CCMG chairperson, Fr. Cleophas Lungu said during a press briefing November 19.

CCMG representatives called on ECZ leadership “to publicly release the targets for voter registration and the number of officers and registration kits deployed for every province, district, constituency in order to enhance the transparency of the exercise and allow stakeholders to understand and evaluate the process and rationale.”

In the November 19 statement, Fr. Lungu who is the Secretary-General of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) further urged ECZ leadership, on behalf of CCMG, to deploy additional and kits to increase the efficiency of voter registration.