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EDITORIAL: Defining what constitute free and fair elections

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As the country emerges from the just ended council and parliamentary by-elections, and with the much-anticipated do or die polls few months away, it has become necessary to look at factors that constitute credible elections.

Apparently, one of the key component or the most fundamental principle defining free, fair, and credible elections is that they must reflect the free expression of the will of the people in any given society.

And to achieve this, elections should be transparent, inclusive, and accountable, to add to this, there must be equitable opportunities to all the candidates of political parties competing in the election.

As such, the principal features of free and fair elections also include a society and a governance system that encourages citizens to vote, that provides space for political parties to work and campaign freely, an independent media, and civil society to flourish, supported by a judiciary system capable of acting with impartiality.

The promotion of the right and the opportunity for every citizen to vote and be elected, free from discrimination, in regular, genuine and competitive elections, that uphold fundamental human rights, including universal and equal suffrage, security of the person and the right to a timely and effective remedy, is paramount in achieving democratic elections.

Meanwhile, governance experts say free and fair elections are the foundation of every healthy democracy, as it ensures that government authority is derived directly from the will of the people.

In the same light, fundamental electoral rights cannot be divorced from effective and transparent electoral processes, procedures and strong, but, independent constitutional bodies and institutions.

And under the ideal democratic electoral legislations, all voters are ensured of their right to vote, while political parties and governments are expected to behave democratically in the preparation and conduct of elections.

Bringing the matter home, it is now clear to judge if the just ended polls could be described as being free and fair. In doing so, it is vital to take a look at the political environment that prevailed prior, during and after the elections.

While, most of us believe that the elections were conducted in a generally peaceful environment, except in few cases, some events prior to the polls leave a lot to be desired, with violent scenes reported.

Just few hours before the polls an alleged PF cadre used a wheel spanner to shatter the front and rear screens of a UPND branded car which was parked at Kasama Shoprite, this allegedly happened with police officers standing akimbo.

As if that is all, few months ago alleged PF cadres threatened some private media houses for granting interviews to political party leaders.

In July this year, PF cadres stormed and threatened to burn down Mafken Radio Station for hosting UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema. This saw them ending up sustaining injuries after being beaten by some Mufulira residents, taxi drivers and UPND cadres for trying to disrupt a radio programme featuring HH.

These are just a few examples and pointers that a lot still needs to be done in the area of how to conduct credible polls.

Meanwhile, as much as we would describe the just elections as having had been conducted within a generally peaceful environment, it has become clear that there is still a lot of ground to be covered in order to hold free and fair elections in the country.

Going forward, the government should ensure a level playing field for all contestants, with equal access to the media, and equal room for parties and candidates to freely engage the electorate.

No place in Zambia should be declared a ‘no go area’ for anyone or political party. Elections should infact leave Zambians more united than devided, with the end note being that the best team of the day wins.

Everything had been said and done, Zambians should walk tall with their heads well above their shoulders and cherishing the happiness of being governed by the one whom they have elected.

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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31