The Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) has made a last-minute plea urging Zambians to desist from violence as they go to the polls. In a statement released, in Lusaka ahead of voting Thursday, Lusaka’s Archbishop and President of ZCCB, Telesphore-George Mpundu, encouraged Zambians to turn out in numbers and vote for a President that they consider professionally competent on political, economic and social programmes.
The election is seen as too tight to call between the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party led by President Edgar Lungu and the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) led by Hakainde Hichilema. There has been an unprecedented climate of violence and intimidation between the two rival political parties which could affect voter turn-out.
Zambian voters for the first time will each have a handful of ballot papers as they are asked to elect a president, vice president, members of parliament, councillors and give a yes or no vote to an amendment in a constitutional referendum.
The Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops is spearheading a monitoring coalition group that consists of various Christian denominations. Known as the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG), the coalition comprises the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ); Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) and the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR). Almost all Christian denominations are represented in this group. JCTR is a Catholic Church-affiliated civil society organisation.
The Zambian Catholic Bishops delegated Caritas Zambia to be the Secretariat for the CCMG. In a report to the media, Wednesday, the CCMG said it has deployed 1,674 trained and accredited monitors across the country. CCMG will also conduct a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) for the 2016 election in every province, district, and constituency of the country.
The African Union (AU) has chosen former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan to head the Election Observer Mission (EOM) to Zambia. Several other regional, European and international observer missions have already deployed in Zambia ahead of the general elections.
In another development, the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) and the Nairobi-based African Media Initiative (AMI) have both criticised the Zambian Government for shutting down operations of a Zambian daily newspaper, the Post newspaper in June this year, at the height of election campaigns. In a new report released this week, IPI says its investigations show that the Zambian government’s action against the newspaper was a politically motivated attempt to silence a persistent critic.
Find below the full statement from the Catholic Bishops of Zambia:
MESSAGE OF THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS ON THE EVE OF THE 11TH AUGUST 2016 GENERAL ELECTIONS
1. My brothers and Sisters! Tomorrow, Zambia goes to the polls to elect civic leaders and decide on the referendum question.
2. On behalf of the Zambia Conference of the Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) or ZEC, I wish to reiterate our ‘call to peaceful, credible and transparent elections’ as expressed in the recent Pastoral Statement: “No longer will violence be heard in your land” (Isaiah 60:18).
3. The Bishops have always maintained that it is the duty of Catholics and people of goodwill to elect leaders. You also have a God-given responsibility to maintain peace before, during and after the polling day. Democracy requires in the first place that all citizens exercise their right to vote in a free and peaceful environment. Therefore, we your shepherds once more call upon all Zambians who registered as voters to turn up tomorrow and cast their votes. Never get tired of voting, as your apathy will only give greater chance to opportunists to carry the day.
4. As you go to vote, remember to vote for a candidate who should have the following qualities: Professionally competent on political, economic and social programmes, courage to speak out the truth, concern for social justice, desire to work for the common good instead of self-enrichment, disposition to use power for service, especially service of the poor and under-privileged, openness to dialogue, honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability to the electorate (Cf. Building for Peace, # 11). Remember not to vote for candidates who are arrogant with a propensity to use violence, people without honesty and integrity, those with proven record of corruption and abuse of power and public resources and those who put narrow sectarian or ethnic interest before national interest and the common good.
5. We further hope that all the organisations that will be monitoring the elections are adequately prepared for the task. As we stated in our earlier statement, “They should be equally independent and free from manipulation and give the public truthful information about the proceedings of the elections.”
6. In addition, we call upon the media, both public and private, to adhere to the principle and ethics of fairness and truth, and to be “professional, ensuring full and fair coverage of all political parties” (Cf. Let there be Peace Among Us – A ZEC Pastoral Statement issued on 23rd January, 2016, #s 27 & 28).
7. As the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) conducts the polls tomorrow, the bishops urge the honourable Commissioners and ECZ staff to remain resolute and professionally conduct their business in providing the necessary mechanisms in the electoral process that will guarantee free and fair elections. The ECZ officers must remember that “The Lord demands fairness in every business deal; he sets the standards” (Prov. 16:11).
8. Not only that, we hereby challenge the youths to be architects of a better Zambia by being agents of peace and reconciliation. We therefore appeal to you to “refuse to be used as mere tools of violence by unscrupulous politicians” (Let there be peace among us, # 26).
9. In conclusion, we again extend our earnest appeal to all Zambians to realise that voting is one of their fundamental rights and duties. It is also a Christian duty. We thus pray that all citizens enter the August 11 general elections with a spirit of honesty, avoiding bribes and cheating. We also pray that all voters, political party leaders and their cadres may have at heart, the needed passion and commitment to build for peace and avoid all forms of violence. As St. Paul exhorts us, “Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody” (Romans 12:18).
May God bless our nation!
Most Rev. T-G Mpundu Archbishop of Lusaka
This article was syndicated with permission from “The Catholic News Agency for Africa” www.canaafrica.org