September 17, 2014
Elections are the cornerstone of a participatory democracy, and they are successful when voters approach the polls free from fear of violence and intimidation. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), the Zambia Police Service (ZPS), Zambia’s political parties, and the people of Zambia for ensuring peaceful by-elections on September 11. We are pleased to see that female candidates fared so well in these elections, increasing the percentage of women in Parliament and further empowering women voters across three constituencies.
Our Embassy sent six staff members to join groups of accredited observers and monitors in Kasenengwa, Mkushi South, and Solwezi Central constituencies. Our observers visited numerous polling stations and totaling centers across these constituencies and were impressed by the courteous, professional treatment from ECZ permanent and volunteer staff, as well as from ZPS officers posted throughout the provinces. Our observers saw people foregoing food, sleep, and family to protect ballots and other sensitive materials. At the end of election day, I was inspired to hear stories of presiding officers, poll agents, and other accredited individuals poring over ballots late into the night, only to stay up and await results at totaling centers. The hard work and dedication of these individuals is a testament to the ECZ’s and ordinary citizens’ commitment to free and fair elections.
Elections like this one are why Zambia has an international reputation for peaceful transitions of power. At the same time, we are aware there is the need to continue to be vigilant about preventing cadre violence. Given problems with violence in recent past by-elections, we want to call particular attention to the by-election in Solwezi Central and congratulate the council of political parties, the ECZ, and ZPS that convened to keep potentially violent influences out of the campaign process. In Eastern Province also, a “zero tolerance” policy toward political violence capably maintained peace and security for the tens of thousands who cast their votes.
Throughout the past few weeks, we are proud that the U.S. Embassy has embarked on programs to train party officials across political lines and to work with the Zambia National Women’s Lobby to increase women’s participation in party structures. I hope our joint efforts with civil society, political parties, and government will help increase voter involvement in local and national elections.
The United States remains committed to ensuring a level playing field for all political parties, especially as the 2016 elections draw nearer. We want to partner with our Zambian friends to support free and fair elections by collaborating with broad sections of society to prevent electoral violence, by enhancing fair media coverage and public debate on political issues, and by increasing voter turnout. All this will require time, energy, and political will.
During my time in Zambia, I have been impressed with citizens’ commitment to strengthen their democracy. The United States is committed to cooperate with our Zambian colleagues to advance this goal. Going forward, we look forward to seeing future elections conducted with the same high standards as those of September 11.