The Zambian 2016 Elections and Conflict Resolution

A discussion with Martin Luther King III and senior leaders at NDI on pre- and post-election challenges

Last week, NDI hosted a panel discussion about the challenges in the pre- and post-Zambian election periods with human rights advocate Martin Luther King III and NDI’s senior leaders Richard Klein, Pat Merloe, Keith Jennings, and Traci Cook. The panel reviewed NDI’s programming during the election cycle, including the findings of the Institute’s domestic observation partner, the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG), parallel vote tabulation efforts, and NDI’s support of political party youth and mitigating violence.

Peaceful competition for political power must be accepted by all players involved in order for policies to be implemented and positive change to come to fruition. Democratic elections serve a few main functions;one being that they are a vehicle by which citizens can express their will and two, that elections allow electors to address policies in which they strongly believe.


Do nasty elections indeed give democracy a bad name?

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria once stated that, “bad democratic processes give elections a bad name.” Election day can be run in a well mannered and managed fashion that has overall credibility. The international community examining these elections cannot adequately judge this credibility, which is why those who look more deeply and work with the domestic organizations must learn humility.

Political party strengthening work revved up during the campaign and provided technical assistance to civil society organizations to conduct educational voter registration events. The CCMG undertook first-time efforts, as no one had previously monitored the voter registration period. This group also monitored every step during election day, including hate speech and violence, and conducted a parallel vote tabulation (PVT). In respect to conducting a more inclusive observation, remote audio trainings were developed for political party agents who could not attend in person trainings.


Pre-Election Day

Issues about political violence, especially among youth, arose and so NDI undertook a program to bring political party youth together. Inter-party youth ambassadors were chosen to promote peace through events and demonstrate to attendees that they were united despite pre-election tensions.

Identifying peace ambassadors and targeting places with the most incidences of violence could be the perfect pairing for successful interventions that qualm existing party tensions. Zambian youth elected amongst themselves six ambassadors who continue to travel throughout the province and host events together, leading by peaceful example. The ambassadors’ work has undoubtedly prevented acts of violence that could have fermented and surfaced. Emerging from this election, it is essential that the ambassadors discover how to best engage youth with the goal in mind of decreasing violence.


Reflections from MLK III

Martin Luther King III held a meeting with Zambian leaders and young activists. He noticed that many Zambians were unaware of constitutional reform provisions, and that there did not appear to be a system to disseminate this information. Moreover, the lack of economic opportunity and basic needs met by the government has left the population frustrated in facing a multitude of daily struggles. MLK III Youth expressed their fear of not having a future to MLK III, which makes it easier for recruiters of violence to effectively execute their task. Thus, addressing youth can be a formidable force for addressing violence in Zambia.

Solutions to end violence are embedded in creating opportunities by establishing an economy to employ vast populations, specifically youth. The discussion about creating an agricultural economy is one that is not just timely, but has no visible execution. The discussion about creating an agricultural economy is one that is not just timely, but has no visible execution of a plan. Such a strategic plan that addresses this issue would entail involvement from business communities, youth, political activists, governmental bodies, families. If the government prioritizes their future, Zambia could be the “breadbasket for the world.”


Stifled Media Circulation

The largest newspaper in favor of the opposition, called The Post, was closed one day prior to the election. Moreover, there were persistent harassment complaints made by journalists and media outlets of the opposition. During this election, there was significant increase in acts of violence compared to historical multiparty elections.


Election Day

Despite logistical challenges, Zambians were not dissuaded from exercising their right to vote. Five ballots were cast as opposed to one single ballot, and 7,679 pollings stations were monitored. For all of the candidates, CCMG was able to match results for over 90% of the pollings stations. The PVT efforts from CCMG demonstrated that results announced by the ECZ’s results were trustworthy.

There were questions posed exclusively by the opposition about the election process, specifically regarding foreign voters who had been added to the voting registration. CCMG could not identify if someone who walked into the polling station was a foreigner (ex. Malawian) and only documented national voter registration cards (NRCs). Despite the fact that CCMG petitioned the Election Commission of Zambia ECZ to conduct audit on foreigners voters, which was shot down, the ECZ did not uncover any critical issues with foreigner votes.


Post-Election Proceedings

When it came down to the decimals, there was minimal margin of error and election day was left with 7,000 votes moving away from the incumbent president. A legal challenge was, thus, brought before the constitutional court. Would the tensions during the pre-election period and minor flaws on election day have a material effect on the outcome? This question is worth pondering, especially when considering that the constitutional court ruled that the ministers - all of whom were ruled to have remain in their positions during the previous 90 days - had to pay back their salaries. Did this influence sentiments of the people and government in Zambia? Why was it conducted the Friday before the election?

The constitution provides a 7 day period for election results to be challenge; from the day of challenge, the court shall hear within 14 days that challenge. However, a series of legal maneuvers  transpired over these 14 days down to the final Friday. The challengers were not provided the opportunity to present their case, and so a unique circumstance arose, one in which the international community encouraged people to take to the streets.


Conflict Resolution

Due to the nature of the voting pattern, the PVT confirmed the consistency of the results that were announced by the ECZ. The problem faced moving forward is, unless there is a petition, the allegations that are made are left unresolved. However, the role of Lungu as President is not a theoretical question, as he was sworn into office this past Tuesday, September 13th. Given that polarization is increasingly acute in Zambia, economic issues remain, and that the population is dissatisfied and discouraged, we are going to face a period of great difficulty. The words we chose to describe these ongoing events are of the utmost importance and have great power in dictating the circumstantial atmosphere. Ethnic appeal and patterns are new in this electoral process, so the creation of avenues is essential for people to voice their case.