Zambia: 1996 general elections

Extracted from: KAELA, LCW 2002 "Zambia" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 381-383.

The first presidential and parliamentary elections since the reintroduction of the multi-party system took place in November 1996. A private foreign company, NIKUV Computers (Israel), was given the task of the registration of voters. A number of other measures were taken which had a bearing on the elections. The constitution and the Electoral Act were and incorporated new electoral provisions. A new act establishing an independent electoral commission was passed. The new constitution introduced a requirement that not only should a presidential candidate be a Zambian but that his/her parents must also be Zambians by birth or descent. In addition the amended constitution stipulated that a person who had been elected president on two previous occassions, would not qualify to contest elections. Furthermore chiefs were required to give up their chieftaincy if they wished to contest parliamentary elections. UNIP [United National Independence Party] interpreted the new citizenship qualifications for presidential elections and the two term limit as blocking Kaunda from standing. It likewise considered the clause applying to chiefs as preventing its vice-president, who was a chief, from contesting the presidency. This was due to the fact that a person who did not qualify for election to the National Assembly did not qualify to contest in presidential elections. As a result, UNIP together with five other allied small opposition parties, decided to boycott the elections. The new citizenship clause also in effect blocked non-indigenous Zambians from standing for election to the presidency. For this reason it was criticised on the grounds that it was discriminatory. Both the enactment of the new constitution and the contracting of NIKUV to register voters were challenged in court by opposition parties without success.

The repeal and replacement of Section 9 of the Electoral Act reflected the amendments to the constitution. The new section stipulated that the nomination and election of a person as president could only be challenged in court by petition after the elections had been held. It also required candidates to affirm that their parents were Zambians by birth or descent.

While previous commissions had been ad hoc, the Electoral Commission Act of 1996, established a permanent five-member autonomous commission. The president appointed the members. The chair was supposed to be a person who had held, or was qualified to hold, high judicial office. No qualifications were stipulated for other members of the commission. The commission is charged with overall responsibility for conducting voter registration, and elections and the delimiting constituencies. Its mandate included coverage of local government elections.

New cards and procedures were introduced for voter registration. While in the past voters were issued with voters cards on registration, under the new system voters had to collect cards at a later date. The registration exercise failed to capture a large number of eligible voters. Out of about 4.5 million eligible voters, only 2.3 million registered. In a number of cases, voters were registered under wrong polling stations and as a result, were unable to find their names in the registers on polling day. A more serious problem to emerge was the large number of cases of people who had the same national registration numbers.

Five candidates contested the presidential elections. The opposition candidates were from minor parties as UNIP, the strongest opposition party, having boycotted the elections. Six hundred candidates participated in the National Assembly elections on party tickets and 99 participated as independent candidates. Twelve political parties fielded candidates for the elections. The MMD won both presidential and National Assembly elections (see 1996 Presidential elections national results and 1996 National Assembly election results). It captured 131 national assembly seats, against nine for opposition parties and ten for independent candidates. Only eight out of more than forty registered parties are represented in the National Assembly. The success of independent candidates was unprecedented as in 1991 no single independent candidate succeeded. Of the elected members, only six were women. Seven of the participating opposition parties did not win any seats at all. Voter turn out was just about 58.6% nationwide.

No international observers came to witness the polling. The major local monitoring groups, the Zambia Independent Monitoring Team (ZIMT), the Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP), and the Committee for Clean Campaign (CCC) declared the elections not free and fair. They based their verdict on lack of consensus on the adoption of the constitution; public media bias in favour of the ruling party; and flaws in the registration process. The Christian Council of Zambia, a member of the CCC, broke ranks with the umbrella organization and declared the elections free and fair, together with the minor monitoring group, Patriotic Rescue Monitors (PAREMO).

It should be noted that participation by voters has been on the decline since independence (this trend is likely to continue unless the cause is analysed and remedial action taken). In contrast, there is a lot of interest in standing for election.

Women are generally under-represented. Although they constitute more than half the population (about 51%), only a small number is fielded as candidates by political parties, and out of these, a much smaller number is elected.

Voting behaviour indicates a pattern of overwhelming support for the ruling party. This, in essence, nurtures a de facto one-party state which tends to militate against politics of compromise among political parties. This pattern may continue if the opposition continues to be fragmented and weak.

However continued support for the ruling party depends on social economic trends. Poor economic performance is likely to continue in the short to medium and with it will continue the relatively high levels of poverty, high infant mortality rates and low life expectancy. At the same time population is likely to continue to increase and the rate may not slow down, contrary to World Bank projections. This could lead to loss of support for the ruling party and could contribute to worsening voter apathy. Ultimately, it may lead to political instability.

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