10 August 2013

Zambia: Civil Society Questions Supreme Court

Civil society organisations in Zambia are raising alarm over the recent disqualification of candidates for parliamentary by-elections by the Supreme Court, prompting concerns over executive pressure on the judiciary to influence elections in favour of the ruling Patriotic Front party.

In a joint statement released yesterday by the Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP), the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Construction of Disputes (SACCORD), the Anti Voter Apathy Project (AVAP), Operation Young Vote (OYV), and the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), the groups note that under Article 65 (6) of the Constitution and under the Electoral Act No. 12 of 2006 section 19 (6) and 22 (b), only persons who are convicted and found guilty by the court can be disqualified from contesting an election as members of parliament. However, with regard to the candidates whose elections were nullified, there have been no such court decision.

"It is amazing that this same court today turns 360 degrees round through a statement that the concerned persons are ineligible to re-contest their seats," the statement reads. "This is unfortunate and is lowering the standing of the Supreme Court which is the highest court of justice in the land. Public Perceptions are now that this court is being nurtured to settle political battles."

The civil society organisations say that the Supreme Court is now undermining the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), as the statement from the Supreme Court was, in fact supposed, to have been issued by the ECZ upon receipt of court judgment interpreting the provisions of the law. Since, the Supreme Court has just issued a statement and not judgment; it is not binding, the groups say.

Ever since the ECZ announced the postponement of the by-elections in an effort to curb the Supreme Court's sudden and confusing interjection, there have been calls from the ruling PF party to remove the head of the ECZ, Ms Priscilla Isaacs, for failing to toe the party line.

However the civil society organisations have rushed to the defence of the ECZ, citing its highly regarded reputation as an independent institution focused on delivering the proper electoral process as defined under law.

"We therefore, find it unfair and unjustifiable for anyone to target the Commission's Director, her staff and call for her resignation," the statement reads. "Since 2011, the ECZ has seemingly reclaimed public confidence and trust and it will be sad for the country to lose such an honor just for political mileage and benefits. There is need therefore, to give credit where it is due."

"As organizations concerned with the electoral process in Zambia, we feel satisfied with the explanation by the ECZ why the Commission is unable to enforce provisions of Sections 22 and 104 of the Electoral Act No. 12 of 2006. It is for this reason that we stand with the ECZ shoulder to shoulder in its efforts to restore impartiality, confidence and integrity in the electoral process."

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