The Presidential elections in Zambia took place on, January 20, 2015. The results were announced by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) on the evening of January 24, 2015. The candidate of the governing Patriotic Front (PF) had received 48 percent of the vote. Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND), was second with 46 percent. Edith Nawakwi, leader of the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) and the only woman presidential candidate, came in third with 15,321 votes.
It took four days before the final result could be declared. The day after voting began, the ECZ had begun announcing results for most of the urban constituencies, but however there were a number of issues. Logistical glitches and the seasonal rain significantly delayed voting in many areas. In neighboring nations of Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique the impact of Zambezi River flooding has been devastating. Livestock has drowned, crops have been submerged or washed away and infrastructure has been badly damaged.
Presidential runner-up, Hakainde Hichilema of UPND declared that the election had been “stolen”. In a statement released shortly before the counting ended, he said: “This has not been a level playing field from the start. We have experienced widespread violence against our supporters and party members throughout the campaign as well as deep irregularities in the counting process. We know that democracy lies not only in the voting, but in the counting.”
At 32.36 percent, the 2015 voter turnout was the lowest in Zambia’s history. There is pronounced voter apathy due to a number of issues. Recent by-elections have seen a sharp drop in voter turnout with some areas recording as low as 20 percent of registered voters in a particular constituency.
In accordance to the figures tabulated by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), turnout has been steadily declining over the years in Zambia.
The neoliberal orthodoxy prevails in the policy formation of the all major political parties in Zambia. A voter survey after the 2011 election found that the major reason for non-participation was the perception of candidates and elected representatives. Many elected representatives regularly break campaign promises and are rarely seen in their constituencies until just before the next election. Attendance at campaign meetings is often motivated by the prospect of giveaways. Candidates unknown to local people are often simply imposed on the electorate. Zambians are very much aware of elections and related activities—they simply choose not to participate. Multinational corporate direct investment has increased while there have been few new jobs created. Poverty and unemployment remain high at about 70 percent and 40 percent respectively.
Prior to the election, gender marginalization was cited by the Zambia National Women’s Lobby. Their press stated the following:
“The Zambia National Women’s Lobby has observed that many eligible voters will be disenfranchised in the January 20th presidential election by the narrow criteria, and the short period of time allocated for the replacement of voters’ cards. A survey conducted in 77 constituencies by the Zambia National Women’s Lobby revealed that some people, especially women, failed to have their voters cards replaced because they were advised to have their cards replaced in districts where they originally registered and most of them had no resources to travel. Other women, especially in rural areas, said they were hampered by the rains, as they were either busy cultivating or could not have access to the centers due to the heavy rains. The people also cited the challenge of the replacement centres being few as some people in far flung areas were unable to access them. Some women also reported that there was also not much publicity on the exercise and some people, especially in rural areas, were not aware that the process was being done.”
Women and girls lag behind many of their peers in the region, according to the Zambia 2012 gender protocol barometer, which tracks the country’s performance against the 28 targets of the Southern African development community protocol on gender and development set for 2015. Zambia ranks 10th out of 15 countries on the Southern African Gender and Development Index, one of the key measures for the barometer. Women’s representation in parliament dropped after the 2011 elections to 11 percent and the percentage of women in local government is a mere 6 percent. Violence against women threatens basic rights and women’s ability to contribute to economic and political life. In four surveyed districts, as many as 80 percent of women report experiencing domestic violence, often multiple times and in multiple forms.
Gender inequity is apparent in measures of education and women’s health. Female literacy in Zambia is estimated at 59.8 percent, compared to males at 82 percent. Six out of 10 married girls aged 15 to 19 cannot read at all. Only 22 percent of boys and 17 percent of girls complete grade 12, although this is an improvement from 17 percent and 11.6 percent, respectively, in 2004. The 48 percent female pass rate for grade 9 and grade 12 exams lags behind the 56 percent male pass rate.
On January 26, 2015 President Lungu appointed Inonge Wina as the first woman Vice-President. She is the first in the history of Zambia and second woman Vice-President in the southern African region. We applaud this progressive step, however challenges in Zambia still persist. The women’s movement throughout Africa has mobilized to coordinate the struggle in all areas of women’s life, ranging from the cultural, political to the economic – not just for political representation but also substantive and inviolable rending of complete equality.
The Left Way Forward
Beginning in 2008 there has been collective discourse related to building in Zambia and throughout the continent an orientation of radicalizing mass organizations such as trade unions, women’s and youth movements. The 63.68 per cent of the Zambian masses who showed their dissatisfaction boycotting the political status quo by not participating in the elections constitute a substantial force that through mass action and solidarity can transform Zambia’s society to the building and the sustaining of socialism.