February 25, 2005

President baulks at further electoral reform

The government has followed the Supreme Court decision validating President Levy Mwanawasa's election victory in 2001 by refusing to accept an anti-corruption recommendation from the Electoral Reform Technical Committee (ERTC). It would have given power to the electoral commission to disqualify candidates whose agents or supporters were found guilty of contravening the electoral regulations. The government appointed the ERTC in 2004 to address the flawed electoral process that has seen numerous disputes come up each time there are elections.
There was a sharp reaction from opposition MPs after Information Minister Mutale Nalumango said "We can't allow the electoral commission of Zambia to have such powers". The government argues that the Anti-Corruption Commission was responsible for investigating any corrupt practices. However, as critics say, the anti-corruption unit lacked resources and had mostly failed to deal with the electoral malpractice, and that the government was aware of that. The commission had offices in only nine of the over 40 districts in the country, with skeleton staffs because of lack of funding. The few cases that had been taken to court had been lost. The list of electoral malpractices by the ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) was furthermore long, critics claim. It included vote-buying, rigging, and the use of government resource such as vehicles. Civil servants were often used to champion the ruling party.
As part of the ongoing debate ahead of new elections the government has also rejected a recommendation that participating parties be made to sign a declaration binding them to adhere to the electoral regulations. As expected, the government has accepted the suggestion that the president and his deputy should be free to use government resources during elections, which they in any event have regularly used, as have government officers at district level who support the party. MPs have, however, agreed with government on rejecting the proposal that cabinet ministers need not be members of parliament. Government fears that if parliament were to be independent of the executive, impeachment and other motions against the president and government would easily pass. The MPs on the other hand fear losing out on the chance to be appointed cabinet ministers - the government maintains that it may continue appointing opposition MPs into government.
Government refused to state its position on the issue of the margin of a presidential win. The opposition wants the presidential candidate to have an absolute majority of 51 percent while the current system has meant that Mwanawasa could win with only 28 percent of the total votes cast in the last election. (The Times of Zambia, Ndola)

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