by Elias Shilangwa
Zambia’s decision to significantly increase nomination fees for candidates in the general elections in August has sparked heated discussions.
The nomination fees for presidential candidates will be raised to 75,000 Zambian Kwacha (about 7,500 U.S. dollars) from 20,000 Kwacha (about 2,000 dollars), while those for parliamentary candidates will rise 20 times to 10,000 Kwacha (about 1,000 dollars). People who run for councilors in urban areas will pay 2,000 Kwacha (about 200 dollars).
The hikes were made so that the candidates will pay for the printing of ballot papers, according to Esau Chulu, a judge with the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ).
“The cost of printing for one candidate for the entire period which normally ranges from 20 to 30 days is 16,000 U.S. dollars,” he said.
But in the eyes of Macdonald Chipenzi, executive director of the Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP), a civil organization dealing with elections, the soaring of nomination fees may be seen as a tactic to keep the poor and the uneducated from becoming candidates.
“The issue should have been discussed at the stakeholders’ meeting on 4th February, 2016,” Chipenzi said.
The decision will make the 2016 elections the most expensive one since Zambia’s independence, he said, emphasizing the needs of the poor should be taken into consideration, a move of paramount importance to ensuring the country’s democratic process.
Peter Sinkamba, leader of the opposition Green Party, is also disappointed by the unusual increase, saying it showed the government has shifted from pro-poor policies to pro-capitalists policies.
“It is a very sad thing for the country, especially for rural constituencies and wards where 80 percent of the people live in abject poverty. It will be literally impossible for most rural candidates to afford these fees,” he said.
He argued that different from the capitalist system, where the rich often have a privilege to become a country’s leader, Zambia is a democratic nation, so the nomination fees should be reduced.
Main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema also questioned the decision as elections are funded by tax payers’ money. Eric Chanda, leader of the opposition 4R party said the electoral body should consider reducing the exorbitant fees.
Popular musician Maiko Zulu, who is to stand as a parliamentary candidate, also said the fees are too high and do not reflect the living standard of ordinary Zambians.
“The move by ECZ to hike the fees by more than 100 percent is discriminatory and can only be seen as an attempt to exclude ordinary Zambians from participating in politics of the country, an act which violates the tenets of human rights and democracy,” the popular musician said.
But others believe the decision is good, because it will cut down the number of presidential candidates and change the previous situation where the country had over 10 presidential candidates.
“I think this is good and it will test whether the presidential candidates are serious enough. If a particular candidate is popular, he or she can raise funds for the nomination fees,” Raphael Mangatila, a political commentator told Xinhua.
For now, it remains to be seen if the electoral body will bow to the pressure and reduce the fees. If this does not happen, Zambians will have to wait to see how many presidential candidates will manage to file their papers. Enditem