…IDEATIONS GoddyChitty @Large by Godfrey Chitalu
THANKS to Prison Care and Counselling Association Executive (PRISCA) Director Godfrey Malembeka, Zambian prisoners will be allowed to vote for the first time in the 2021 General elections. This enfranchisement is courtesy of the Constitutional Court after Malembeka’s successful litigation.
So as Zambia joins other progressive countries on this potentially transformative move, we should be wary of pitfalls ahead. Since our country has no any semblance of established procedures for remandees to take part in elections, it is generally expected that this learning curve will have some downsides.
Are there ominous clouds for a pending political backlash or is it a figment of my imagination? To put the record straight, the move to have prisoners voting is a contentious issue.
It is loathed by members of both the opposition and ruling parties. Most on the opposition side claim that prison votes will go to the ruling party. They are supported by their peers, who insist that lack of information in prisons will create a monster block vote for the ruling party. “Any vote by someone incarcerated will be calculated with a belief that it might just secure freedom”.
Contrariwise, the ruling class are uncomfortable that a people not well cared for can be allowed to take part in decisive elections. Asking prisoners, who live in poor, dilapidated and overcrowded facilities is not a clever way of gathering votes. “The opposition are just crybabies lamented one senior official, who insisted they had no advantage in prisons”.
One thing for certain is that the Constitutional Court has already ruled that prisoners will vote this year. It is not in dispute and will not be contested. It seems bit by bit prisoners are getting back their rights. Next stop is likely conjugal rights! So the ancient notion that prisoners lose such rights on conviction will not survive as a relic. It is now apparent that there will be no sense of loss when prisoners are behind bars; they will be allowed to use their democratic right to vote for leaders of their choice and are on the way to conjugal rights.
This new road we are walking on will certainly have some pitfalls. Registering prisoners is not a big issue but rather how and where they will vote from! Will they vote from the initial location of their incarceration or their current prison?
What advantage will this give to those vying for elections? Can these prison votes swing elections, especially for low level councilors? Imagine all the remandees at Namuseche, Katomboroa, Mwembeshi or Mukobeko prisons, voting enmasse for or against some councilor!
Let us assume that one big correctional facility is turned into a voting center, who will identify them? Is the issue of an NRC and a voter’s card enough? Since we vote using fixed centers, do we take it that all eligible prisoners will use the nearest polling center?
There is also the small issue of campaigning in correctional facilities; do we say warders will provide balanced electoral information? Are our prisons well serviced with electoral information?
Of course we know that no prisoner would be allowed to attend a political rally. Is the opposite true for politicians? Are we going to have some politicians on either divide visit prisons for the sole purpose of canvassing support? Allow me to conclude with the Electoral Commission of Zambia.
How far have they gone with national sensitization in this regard? With our correctional facilities housing close to 25000 formerly disenfranchised prisoners, how will this new freedom pan out?
The author is a social commentator who writes for pleasure.
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