Zambia Federation of Disability Organisations (ZAFOD), on Wednesday 7th February 2018, made submissions to the Committee on Legal Affairs, Human Rights, National Guidance, Gender Matters and Governance on the participation of Persons with Disabilities in the electoral process.The Committee comprised of seven Honorable Members of Parliament:
- Mathews Jere, MP- Livingstone (Chair)
- Pilila Jere, MP- Lumezi (V/Chair)
- Tutwa Sandani Ngulube, MP- Kabwe Central
- Lazarous Bwalya Chungu, MP- Lupososhi
- Elizabeth Phiri, MP- Kanyama
- Herbert Shabula, MP- Itezhi-Tezhi
- Credo Nanjuwa, MP- Mumbwa Central
The population of persons with disabilities in Zambia is about 2 million, according to the 2010 census. In the most recent elections (2016), Zambia made significant strides in including persons with disabilities in response to a court case brought by ZAFOD against the Electoral Commission of Zambia in 2011. However, many gaps still remained for persons with disabilities especially Women and Youths living in both urban and remote areas.
Persons with disabilities in Zambia face obstacles in exercising their right to vote both before and during elections. Despite some efforts evidenced in the 2016 elections in Zambia, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) and other duty bearers are not fully accountable to the prescriptions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the national legal frameworks in terms of promoting the right to vote of persons with disabilities.
Zambia has a number of legal frameworks that have provisions on the rights for participation of Persons with Disabilities in the Political Arena. However, there has been a challenge in the implementation of the measures prescribed as the laws contradict themselves and there is lack of capacity on the part of the institutions that have been given the mandate. Below are the pieces of Legislation with regards to the participation of Persons with Disabilities in the Electoral process in Zambia.
- Article 29 of the UNCRPD
- Article 23 of the Constitution of Zambia, Chapter 1.
- Section 19 of The Persons with Disabilities Act
- Sec 9c of the Electoral Process Act
- Mental Disorders Act of 1949
The first three pieces of legislations (The UNCRPD to which Zambia is a signatory, the Constitution of Zambia and the Persons with Disabilities Act No.6 of 2012) support the inclusion of PWDs Participation in Political & Public Life, these laws guarantee political rights for persons with disabilities and participation in public life on an equal basis with others, but the fourth and fifth legislations (Sec 9c of the Electoral Process Act and Mental Disorders Act of 1949) are conflicting laws that discriminate against Persons with Disabilities . i.e. Persons with Psychosocial or Mental health Disabilities in particular, regarding political participation. These two laws further discriminate Persons with Psychosocial and Intellectual Disabilities from exercising their franchise.
The right to participation in political and public life is to a large extent linked and interdependent with the issue of accessibility. Inaccessible infrastructure, transportation and information usually cause barriers to the participation of Persons with Disabilities on an equal basis with others. Persons who are deaf or hard of hearing particularly face communication barriers – for example in many cases information is transmitted through radio stations. Such communication barriers hinder deaf people from participation in public life. Lack of Braille ballot papers means persons with visual impairments are dependent on a third party to cast their vote, which in itself overrides their right to a secret vote.
Most Polling stations are not accessible to wheelchair users who also find it difficult to reach the polling booths and ballot boxes that are usually placed too high. These and numerous other barriers serve to reinforce the exclusion and isolation of people with disabilities in political and public life, and, more generally, their participation in decision-making in all areas where their interests are affected in both their public and private lives(UNCRPD IMU Government report ).
The Government has, however, taken some measures in the recognition and promotion of inclusiveness in the Electoral process, although more needs to be done:
- The Zambian government recognizes that persons with disabilities have the right to political and public participation. In view of this, the Zambian government has taken both legislative and administrative measures to promote and protect this right. Article 46 of the Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to make political choices, to form political parties, to participate in the activities of political parties as well as to vote in elections for any legislative body established under the Constitution, and to do so in secret; and to stand for public office and, if elected, to hold office.
- The Zambian government has made progress towards improving participation of persons with disabilities in political life as there are several Statutes that guarantee persons with disabilities these rights and which when fully implemented would enable persons with disabilities to overcome the limitations that hinder them from enjoying these rights.
- Section 51 of the Persons with Disabilities Act provides for the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote and be elected.
- During the 2016 electro cycle persons with disabilities took an active role in voting procedures. Persons with disabilities were recruited by the Electoral Commission of Zambia as poll staff during the voter’s registration exercise.
- Persons with disabilities had representation in the Voters Education Committee and Conflict Management Committees. The Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities represented persons with disabilities in many stakeholders’ consultative meetings.
- Persons with Disabilities had representation in monitoring the printing of ballot papers in Dubai. On the other hand persons with disabilities were also represented in the verification of ballot papers in Chongwe District of Lusaka Province.
- Braille Jackets were printed for Blind persons to exercise their right to vote and cast a vote secretly.
- The Electoral Commission of Zambia placed temporal ramps in some polling stations, especially the urban areas to facilitate independent participation by persons with disabilities. The ECZ also selected polling stations that had accessibility ramps especially in schools.
- During the period towards the 2016 general elections the ECZ provided voters education materials in Braille and written sign language. Sign language interpreters were also placed on the National Television. Pictorial easy to read voters education materials for persons with intellectual disabilities were also provided. Voter education materials were also provided in large print.
- The Zambian Government actively involved persons with disabilities in the constitution making process from 2003 to 2016. The Zambian government appointed persons with disabilities to participate in the constitutional making process.
- Furthermore, the Zambian government has appointed few persons with disabilities in strategic national positions such permanent secretaries and chief executives of public spending agencies and on the commissions.
- Review the legal framework for the full realization of fundamental rights of individuals and groups of People with Disabilities, as provided for in international and regional principles for democratic elections. (Article .29 (a) CRPD: The equal right of persons with disabilities to ‘effectively and fully participate in political life, including the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote)
- Repeal sec 9C of Electoral Process Act.
- Follow up on the progress of the Electoral Commission Zambia (ECZ) and the Executive in general, in implementing the measures to achieve an inclusive electoral process as directed by the High Court judgment of 2011 in the Selah Brotherton v. ECZ.
- Accord to the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to implement all the required measures, progressively, before the 2021 general elections
- Repeal the Mental Disorders Act of 1949 which discriminates People with Disabilities exercising their franchise and enact Mental Health Bill of 2016. (Petition to Parliament by ZAFOD ,FODEP and DRW)
- There is need to strengthen the mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the CRPD in Zambia with regard to the participation to the political and public life
- There is need to build the capacities of right-holders to claim their rights and those of the duty-bearers to meet their obligations in effectively promoting those rights.