Zambia is peaceful, rules AU observer chief

THE political and electoral environment in the country is calm and peaceful despite the incidents of violence reported in Lusaka and Namwala districts, the African Union Observer Mission (AUEOM) to the 2016 general elections said yesterday.

Head of the mission, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, said the intervention by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to suspend the election campaigns for 10 days helped reduce tension among the political contestants.

Mr Jonathan appealed to political party leaders not think only about their political ambitions but should endeavor to put the country first.

Mr Jonathan has implored all Zambians, particularly political parties and candidates, to continue exercising restraint by ensuring that the prevailing peaceful environment that has charactised much of the campaign period was maintained.

Speaking in Lusaka yesterday during a press conference on an assessment of the pre-election context, Mr Jonathan said the objective of the mission was to provide an independent, objective and impartial assessment of the preparations and conduct of the 2016 general elections.

He said the mission will also assess the extent to which the elections comply with the legal framework of Zambia as well as regional and continental principles for democratic elections, which Zambia has ratified.

He however said the AUEOM welcomed the important change to the Electoral Processes Act which states that the chairperson of the ECZ will now be the returning officer in presidential election, as previously there was an apparent conflict of interest where the Chief Justice was the returning officer and also responsible for swearing in the President and sit over the judgment in case of dispute.

He said the Electoral Commission Act empowers the ECZ to promote conditions conducive to democratic and open elections, promote democratic electoral processes and adjudicate disputes that may arise.

Mr Jonathan observed that despite the two incidents of violence, the mission noted that political parties were able to undertake their campaigns without major disruption.

Mr Jonathan said the AUEOM noted a number of complaints about the application of the Public Order Act by the police, which is said to be arbitrarily restricting freedom of assembly of opposition parties and civil society organizations.