By DAVID KANDUZA –
THE importance of the code of conduct in creating a level playing field in the electoral process cannot be overlooked.
This is because it regulates the conduct of political players before, during and after elections.
By definition, the code of conduct is a group of rules which aim at establishing neutral practices for persons or organisations in charge of undertaking, hence without these rules, there could be chaos in the electoral system.
The Zambian Code of Conduct regulations were developed in 2006 with a background of 40 years of elections held in circumstances where the rule of law and democratic principles were not always respected.
The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) drafted the code with the purpose of restoring the credibility of the commission by minimising malpractices and punishing the culprits.
As such, codes of conduct are crucial documents which can have a big impact on any given election.
As Zambia heads toward elections there is need to have an electoral process that explain laws and custom that must be followed by all partakers for it to produce free and fair elections.
As a general guideline the code defines the duty of every person during election campaigns and elections as follows:
“(1) every person shall during election campaigns and elections promote conditions conducive to the conduct of free and fair elections and is bound by the code.
(2) The Commission and any member of the Zambia Police Force shall enforce the Code and shall promote conditions conducive to the observance of the code,” according to article four.
In addition, the code thereafter covers political parties and individual candidates and the police force, election commission itself, mass media and election observers.
In the section concerning political parties and campaigns the regulation specifies the rights but also prohibitions of individual candidates.
An individual candidate is for example entitled to ‘publish and distribute notices and advertisements’ and ‘seek protection of the law from harm as a result of that person’s political opinion or affiliation’ according to article six.
It is, nevertheless, prohibited to carry arms – traditional or otherwise – at a political meeting or public event and use Government transport and resources or facility to ferry voters to polling stations.
The lists of rights and prohibitions consist of numerous detailed acts.
What is expected from the police force is that officers must not abuse their authority.
The principles of media should be fairness and neutrality at all times while covering the electoral cycle.
During a talk to journalism students at Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation in Kitwe recently dubbed ‘Police operations and media’, Copperbelt police commissioner, Charity Katanga said journalists had the power to build and destroy the country by virtue of their reporting.
Ms Katanga said the role of the media was to report on issues affecting the weaker and voiceless people who yearn to express their grievances, hence making the media a forum through which people speak.
She called on media practitioners to understand their role as stipulated in the Electoral Code of Conduct and be truthful in their reporting.
“The media plays an important role in that it helps the police to follow up issues that are aggrieving the community,” she said and added: “the police follow up on media reports. Hence the need for the two parties to work close together.”
In regards to this year’s elections, Ms Katanga assured the students that there was adequate man power in the service to ensure that there was security in the province.
Ms Katanga also said police officers had been directed in various places to come up with consolidated operations orders which would enable her office to monitor patrols and maximise security before, during and after elections.
In case of disputes, complaints are addressed to conflict management committees established by the ECZ.
Unlawful actions and conduct are also required to be reported to the police.
ECZ has issued a code of conduct, which is enabled by the Electoral Act (2006, 109), the Electoral (Code of Conduct) Regulations 2006.
These regulations govern not only the behaviour of political parties, their agents and supporters during electoral campaigns, but also that of the various mass media and election observers and monitors.
These regulations have legal force and contravention carries with it the possibility of a fine or up to a year imprisonment (Code 1996, 16).
In terms of the Electoral Act (2006, 110-111) the ECZ may set up Conflict Management Committees to resolve conflicts.
The Code (2006, 15(1)) requires that all unlawful actions and intimdatory conduct be brought to the attention of the relevant Conflict Management Committee and to the Zambian Police.
The Conflict Management Committees may impose punishments that the ECZ determines by statutory instruments (Code 2006, 15(3).
Opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) recently wrote ECZ accusing the Patriotic Front (PF) of violating the Electoral code of conduct ahead of the 2016 general elections.
But the ECZ said it had not yet drawn up an election campaign period to effect the Electoral Code of Conduct during the time political parties are traversing the country interacting with their would be voters.
In a letter addressed to ECZ director, Priscilla Isaacs, UPND deputy secretary general Kuchunga Simusamba said the party had noted with dismay that PF had continued to exhibit posters of their Presidential candidate Edgar Lungu in many parts of the country.
But ECZ public relations manager, Cris Akufuna said the commission had noted that all political parties were going round the country and having radio talk shows but could not restrict their movement and activities because the Electoral Code of Conduct was not in effect.
Mr Akufuna said had the political parties been breaching the electoral code in an election period, the commission could have intervened to ensure their political activities were within the confines of the electoral code of conduct.
He said if any political party was going to complain about the activities of the ruling party and their messages, ECZ was going to advise them accordingly.
On the issue of enforcement, Zambia has fair codes of conduct as it compliments, rather than entrenched in existing laws and regulations.
Zambia, being an example in the region, has a code which features a broad scope of coverage, coupled with strong legal enforcement mechanisms, including fines and possibilities of police enforcement and even penalty sentences.
Another example is that of Cambodia where international assistance has been provided to establish an elaborate code of conduct in which principles from the international community such as prevention of intimidation are resurfaced.
As Zambia draws closer to the August 11, 2016 general elections, there is need for all stakeholders involved to get acquainted with the Electoral Code of Conduct.