from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – BY declaring the recently-held general election as not free and fair, and in all likelihood rejecting the outcome, incumbent Edgar Lungu has hurled Zambia into its worst political crisis in over five decades of independence.
This deteriorates an already dire state of affairs in the Southern African country torn apart by weeks of deadly pre-election violence.
Amid speculation he has lost to long-time rival Haikande Hichilema after Thursday’s elections, Lungu has rejected the conduct of the exercise, citing violence against agents of his party that has ruled since 2011.
Preliminary figures placed Hichilema at 63 percent and Lungu at over 34 percent. Around 7 million voters participated.
Lungu mentioned intimidation was rife in the North-Western, Southern and Western provinces.
According to a statement released by Isaac Chipampe, Lungu’s Special Assistant on Press and Public Relations, polling agents of his Patriotic Front (PF) were “brutalised” and chased away from polling stations, a situation that left the PF’s vote unprotected in the three provinces.
Lungu also cited the killing of North-Western provincial leader, Jackson Kungo, and Emmanuel Chihili, a brother of another provincial leader, on election day.
Unidentified individuals, reportedly mobs, allegedly attacked the individuals on allegations of vote rigging.
“Right now, some of our agents are in hiding because of these criminal acts,” Lungu said.
“How can these elections be free and fair when people have been murdered and others are in hiding after being brutalised. Is that democracy?”
PF stated it was consulting on the next course of action concerning the election.
Reports circulated on social media the weekend that Lungu had conceded defeat but the PF dismissed this as fake news.
“We wish to put it very clearly that His Excellency President Edgar Chagwa Lungu has not conceded defeat because he has not lost the elections,” stated Antonio Mwanza, the PF Media Director.
He said the party had done parallel voter tabulation and it was clear Lungu was ‘winning these elections with a very comfortable margin.”
“We therefore wish to call upon our people across the country to remain calm and allow the Electoral Commission of Zambia to execute its mandate of announcing election results,” Mwanza said.
However, some six challengers (out of the 16 that contested the poll), urged Lungu to concede defeat.
These are Harry Kalaba, Chishala Kateka, Fred Mmembe, Nevers Mumba, Bishop Trevor Mwamba and Sean Tembo, who expressed “utmost shock and reservation” at the incumbent’s declaration.
They charged Lungu was complicit in the elections being far from being free and fair by abusing the Public Order Act to restrict the movement of political opponents while members of PF were free to mobilize at will.
He is also accused of using the Police Service against political opponents under the guise of upholding the COVID-19 public health directives.
“It is therefore inconceivable that the very government that created an uneven playing field can today want to delay the election process by seeking to take the legal process in a bid to delay the announcement of election results,” the rivals stated.
They warned Lungu’s actions were an abuse of the court process but also tantamount to seeking to usurp the mandate of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ).
“In this regard, we would like to request that you demonstrate magnanimity and accept the outcome of the election without any further delay,” the opposition leaders jointly stated.
“The People of Zambia have spoken and the courts of law should not be used in any way to circumvent the wishes and aspirations of the people,” they added.
“We trust you will act with humility and submit to the wishes of the People by conceding defeat and allowing for the succession process to start without any further delay.”
The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ), referring to Lungu as “former president”, accusing him of undermining the elections.
“He (Lungu) must wait until winner is declared then try his luck in court,” LAZ stated.
United Party for National Development (UPND) leader, Hichilema, who has contested and lost five previous polls, has kept a low profile amid the unfolding crisis.
The party however announced Hichilema had defeated Lungu in the latter’s key strongholds including the Copperbelt and Eastern province.
ECZ is expected to release the results this week.
The Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) called for calm amid the tense wait for final results.
“We urge all Zambians, regardless of party affiliation, to exercise patience, tolerance and restraint while the Electoral Commission of Zambia concludes the results processes,” said COG Chair, Jakaya Kikwete.
Kikwete, the former president of Tanzania, called upon the ECZ to expedite the announcement of all verified election results.
Landlocked Zambia, the former Northern Rhodesia, has largely been peaceful since independence from Britain in 1964.
It endured its worst political crisis in 1990 when riots demanding the abolition of one-party state turned deadly and then-president Kenneth Kaunda (now-late) survived an attempted coup.
He reinstated multiparty democracy a year later but was defeated in the subsequent elections.
– CAJ News