from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – VIOLENCE and allegations of vote rigging have cast doubt on Zambia holding credible by-elections on Friday (tomorrow).
By-elections are scheduled for the Kapanda in the Northern province and Lunga in the Luapula province, also in the north.
The contest is projected to be a two-horse race between the ruling United Party for National Development (UPND) of President Haikande Hichilema and the Patriotic Front (PF), the immediate past governing party.
The parties have traded accusations over the skirmishes that are worryingly becoming a common occurrence each time this southern African country hailed as a symbol of peace, compassion and stability in Africa holds elections.
The Socialist Party, another opposition, warned the pre-election situation could spiral into a full-blown crisis if unchecked.
“We urge the UPND leaders to stop this violence before it gets out of control,” its president, Fred M’membe, said.
M’membe, a presidential candidate in the 2021 presidential elections, lamented the by-elections are degenerating into “a contest where the most violent prevail.”
“They (there) should be a contest where the most popular and most trusted win. They should be a competition to serve and not injure, maim or kill,” the opposition leader said.
The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) said it had noted with “serious concern” that while the atmosphere had generally been peaceful since the commencement of the campaigns, violence erupted in the run-up.
“It is, however, regrettable and worrying that there has been incidences of violence in these two wards a few days before poll day,” said Patricia Luhanga, Corporate Affairs Manager of the ECZ.
Luhanga stated that the poll authority, “will not hesitate to invoke the Electoral Process Act and take appropriate action in the remaining period should these violent acts continue.”
At some stage during the 2021 general polls, it suspended the PF and UPND from campaigning in some districts after party supporters engaged in violence. Lungu deployed the army in some violence hotspots.
ECZ meanwhile dismissed vote rigging claims made by a PF legislator.
“The party has information that the process of transporting ballot papers for Friday’s by-elections was taken over by the ruling UPND with ECZ relegated to only playing a minor role of escorting the papers instead of taking the lead as mandated by law,” Chanda Katotobwe, Luapula MP for PF in Luapula had alleged.
Luhanga explained the sequence of events.
Ballot papers arrived on December 30aboard Emirates Airlines at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.
Verification of the ballot papers with stakeholders took place at ECZ Head Office on January 4.
The commission had issued a public notice on December 28 invited participating political parties to attend the verification process.
Luhanga said ballot papers for all elections were dispatched from the capital Lusaka and delivered in respective wards by ECZ officials not in conjunction with the ruling party.
ECZ has warned such allegations by the MP amount to serious criminal offences for which peddlers could be liable for prosecution.
“This does not just undermine the credibility of an election. It is also a recipe for anarchy if left unchecked,” Luhanga said of alleged misinformation and disinformation.
“The Commission would like to encourage all political players to be factual, tolerant and promote co-existence as these are some of the key ingredients of a maturing democracy and the conduct of peaceful elections.”
Zambia, the Southern African country hailed for spearheading the independence of fellow Southern African nations, is beset by political divisions and economic problems.
It is searing in debt and was the first African country in 2021 to renege on payments owed to external investors.
An energy crisis has plunged the nation of 19 million people into power cuts lasting up to 12 hours daily, much to the detriment of economic recovery.
Charles Kaisala, the UPND Chairperson for Energy, said the party would implement an ambitious Renewable Energy Investment Plan to resolve the issue.
He said the load shedding of the load shedding was politicised.
“Armchair critics of President Hichilema are merely exposing their ignorance over energy matters,” Kaisala said.
Speaking on arrival from the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) this week, Hichilema said Zambia made the most of the event to engage its development partners in areas around energy and other sectors of our economy.
“We implore you, our citizens, to look out for opportunities that will be created as a result of our visit to the UAE,” the president said.
– CAJ News