By Jeff Kapembwa
Lusaka – Health and electoral authorities have warned of the possibility of a postponement of Zambia’s August 12 general election amidst an increase in COVID-19 infections in the country.
Zambia is now in Africa’s top five when it comes to the novel coronavirus infection rate with 96,563 cases and 1,290 deaths as of June 3, 2021. Countries with higher infection rates are South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia and Ethiopia.
At the time of writing, at least 141,829 Zambians had received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 5,286 had got the second dose.
Zambia National Professional Health Institute (ZNPHI) director Professor Victor Mukonka said a possible third wave of the pandemic could compel authorities to put safety above electoral considerations. President Edgar Lungu has already announced a ban on rallies as a COVID-19 control measure.
In a meeting with representatives of political parties and electoral stakeholders in Lusaka this week, Prof Mukonka said, “(Rallies and public gatherings) are super spreaders and could lead to a possible strain and a collapse of the health system, loss of livelihoods and economic harm; and unless, we take precautions, it might lead to revere restrictions and subsequent lockdowns.”
Chief Elections Officer Mr Patrick Nshindano warned of possible poll rescheduling if COVID-19 cases continued to rise.
“This is not a joking matter; it is a serious issue which will not only cripple your elections. If this becomes uncontrollable, the state of emergency will then be applied and we’ll not be able to conduct elections,” he said.
But constitutional lawyer Mr John Sangwa said postponing the elections because of the pandemic would be undemocratic.
“Postponing of the elections is not debatable, (they have) to take place whether you like it or not,” he said in a radio interview, in remarks that drew support from opposition political parties which say other countries have conducted polls during the pandemic.