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Church Leaders in Zambia Call for Impartial Media Coverage of By-Election Campaigns

Logo Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG). Credit: CCMG

Church leaders in Zambia under the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG) have called on the media in the Southern African nation to observe impartiality and fairness in the coverage of the ongoing political campaigns ahead of the Kabwata Constituency Parliamentary by-election scheduled for February 3. 

Kabwata Constituency fell vacant in November last year after its Member of Parliament, Levy Mkandawire, died in a road accident. 

In a Thursday, January 20 statement, the church leaders say, “CCMG urges the media to unreservedly and impartially play its key role of providing space for all the political parties and candidates to interact with electorates in order to allow entrenchment of democratic governance through the electoral process in our country.”

They say that the media “is not only a key stakeholder in the electoral process but a key carrier of political messages especially at this time when due to the COVID-19 pandemic, physical gatherings are discouraged and minimized.”

The leaders representing various church groupings in the Southern African nation have also called on officials of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to enforce the Electoral Code of Conduct without fear. 

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“One of their (ECZ) key mandates is to ensure a peaceful and credible election and this can be achieved by invoking provisions of the law against any candidate or political party whose actions threaten peaceful and credible elections,” CCMG officials say. 

The Church leaders further call on the Zambia Police to provide security and ensure law and order is maintained. 

“Our expectations of the Zambia Police therefore are that they perform their duties diligently without fear or favor and that they investigate all acts of violation of the electoral code of conduct without discrimination,” CCMG officials say.

In their collective statement, the church leaders condemn acts of violence that were witnessed in Chilenje, Kabwata Constituency, last December. 

“Such acts do not only create an unsafe environment for voters but undermine the principles of participation, association and expression”, CCMG Steering Committee Spokesperson, Fr. Alex Muyebe, has been quoted as saying in the statement. 

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Kabwata Constituency By-Elections had been previously scheduled to take place on January 20.

ECZ cancelled the polls after one of the contestants, Libanda Francis, withdrew from the race. 

The Electoral Commission officials invoked Article 52(6) of the Zambian Constitution, which calls on the electoral body to cancel an election when a candidate withdraws, dies, becomes disqualified for corruption or malpractice or where a court bars a contestant from participating in an election. 

A new date for the by-election, February 3, was chosen according to Article 52(6) of the Zambian Constitution, which requires fresh nominations of eligible candidates and the organization of a new election within 30 days after the list of new nominations is filed.  

On January 13, officials of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) said the cancellation of the poll that had been scheduled for January 20 just because a candidate had withdrawn from the race was a justifiable reason for Zambia to review its constitution.  

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“It is with great concern the continued existence of ambiguities with regard to the current constitution, its interpretation, and more specifically, in this case, the weaknesses of Zambia’s electoral processes,” JCTR officials said. 

They added, “It is a known fact that with the current electoral legal framework, Zambia’s political system remains vulnerable to inconsistencies and unnecessary wastage of public resources.”

In the CCMG statement, the organization’s Chairperson, Fr. Emmanuel Chikoya, echoes the call to review the country's electoral laws saying Mr. Libanda’s withdrawal from the race “confirms the urgent need for constitutional and legal reforms ahead of future by-elections and the 2026 General Election.”

The cancellation of the Kabwata by-election has also “led to unnecessary costs to the running of elections by the Commission as well as to the participation of political parties and candidates,” the Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Lusaka has been quoted as saying. 

Founded in 2015, CCMG is an independent and nonpartisan election observer in the Southern African country comprising four Christian forums: the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), JCTR, the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ). 

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