ZAFOD Launches Its Thematic Observation Report on Accessibility of the 12 August 2021 General Election for Persons With Disabilities

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Justine Bbakali

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ZAFOD calls on all stakeholders, particularly the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) and the Zambian government to recommit to the inclusion and full participation of persons with disabilities in Zambia’s electoral and political processes.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Lusaka – September 28, 2021.

The Zambia Federation of Disability Organisations (ZAFOD) launched its report on its Thematic Election Observation of Accessibility for the 2021 General Elections detailing its observation findings and calling on the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), the Zambian government and other electoral stakeholders to take stronger action to improve the accessibility of electoral processes for persons with disabilities and ensure meaningful inclusion of persons with disabilities in all political and electoral processes. Following its observation of the
pre-election environment and 74 polling stations across Zambia during the August 12 general election, ZAFOD notes with concern that many voters with disabilities continue to face barriers to exercising their right to vote and to equal political participation.

“Although ZAFOD applauds the positive steps the ECZ had taken to enhance the participation of persons with disabilities in the August 12 general elections, such as capturing disability type during voter registration and the provision of braille jackets in some polling stations, ZAFOD’s election day observation found that many polling stations, unfortunately, remain inaccessible to Zambians with disabilities, undermining the right to equal participation and in contravention of the Government of Zambia’s legal obligations under domestic and international law. ZAFOD also noted inadequate sensitization of polling station officials around braille jackets and other accessibility measures, and uneven distribution of such materials,” ZAFOD Vice President Paul
Mbewe said.

“ZAFOD in 2011 legally challenged the ECZ in the Lusaka High Court on issues of accessibility for persons with disabilities. The court ruled in ZAFOD’s favour and September 2021 marked the ten-year anniversary of the landmark Sela Brotherton (on behalf of ZAFOD) vs. ECZ court case, in which the High Court ruled that persons with disabilities were being unlawfully discriminated against and prevented from freely exercising their right to vote. The ruling stipulated that the ECZ develop a comprehensive action plan and budget to ensure that persons with disabilities are able to easily and freely exercise their right to vote. However, unlike in 2016 no action plan was publicly released for 2021, and our observation demonstrates that further action is needed on the part of the ECZ to meet the terms of the ruling.” On August 12, ZAFOD deployed 74 non-partisan, accredited citizen observers to observe at polling stations in 60 districts across all 10 provinces of Zambia. ZAFOD also deployed 20 long-term observers in July to report on the pre-election environment. ZAFOD also observed voter registration in select areas of Lusaka. ZAFOD’s report details its findings from its observation and provides detailed recommendations to stakeholders to inform electoral reform and to ensure that persons with disabilities’ needs are included in critical discussions about Zambia’s electoral and political processes.

Despite continued barriers to participation, ZAFOD welcomes the fact that at least 12 candidates on the ballot on August 12, including five at the parliamentary level, were persons with disabilities. However, ZAFOD notes with concern the threatening, abusive or insulting language towards candidates with disabilities among political players. While ZAFOD urges political parties to continue to nominate persons with disabilities as candidates and to take steps to encourage their inclusion at all levels of party structures, ZAFOD calls on political parties to take a more active approach in raising awareness and discussing inclusion policies as outlined in their manifestos among party members and internal structures to be better able to apply disability inclusion lenses in their engagements with the electorate. ZAFOD also wishes to thank our staff, master trainers and observers for their dedication to ensuring that people with disabilities are able to fully exercise their rights. /Ends

The Zambia Federation of Disability Organisations (ZAFOD) is the national civil society umbrella body of over 15 affiliate member organisations of and for persons with disabilities in Zambia. Since the early 1980s, ZAFOD has been advocating for the promotion and protection of disability rights and the inherent dignity of persons with disabilities, including advocacy for the observance of rights to political and public participation of persons with disabilities through inclusive and accessible electoral processes.

Issued by: Paul Mbewe, ZAFOD Vice President, 0977 651 957, Email:
baluwambewe@yahoo.co.uk