from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – VIOLENCE, allegations of vote buying by politicians and partisanship by the electoral body have marred prospects of credible by-elections in Zambia.
This comes as critics accuse the new administration of President Haikande Hichilema of entrenching dictatorship despite its assuming power on a pledge of upholding freedoms.
Supporters of his United Party for National Development (UPND) are accused of perpetrating violence ahead of polls set for Chililabombwe, Lupososhi and Serenje districts on Thursday.
The main opposition Patriotic Front (PF), in power until electoral defeat by UPND, accused the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) of failing to control electoral violence, unfair treatment of candidates and voters in the three areas.
It alleges this is because cadres were appointed to serve the UPND interests at ECZ.
The atmosphere has been volatile in recent weeks.
Police recently arrested Fred M’membe, president of the other opposition Socialist Party, in Serenje for alleged unlawful discharge of a firearm and assault of suspected members of the ruling UPND.
However, the opposition believes the UPND is behind the violence.
“Citizens were expecting that political violence would be resolved at the Summit on Democracy Zambia hosted last month,” said the PF’s Brian Mundubile, Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.
He added, “However, it seems that the Summit on Democracy was held for academic purposes because UPND has continued on the path of violence to disturb elections.”
Reports from Lupososhi indicated that the Minister of Youth, Sports and Art, Elvis Nkandu, was publicly distributing money in the area in a bid to influence voters.
In Chililabombwe, ECZ reportedly stopped PF members from campaigning.
“I want to call upon the ECZ to pull up their socks to ensure that elections are credible, free and fair,” Mundubile said.
Critics accuse Hichilema of stuffing ECZ with ruling party loyalists.
Mwangala Zaloumis and McDonald Chipenzi, appointed by Hichilema as chairperson and commissioner respectively, are branded as pro-UPND.
Elisha Matambo, UPND provincial chairman for the Copperbelt, alleged opposition party supporters in Chililabombwe had resorted to buying voter’s cards after sensing defeat due to UPND popularity.
“The Copperbelt UPND provincial chairman and his team have been camping in the ward for over three weeks now mopping every vote while sharing the good news of what UPND government has done so far,” the ruling party stated.
UPND has been in power since elections in 2021.
Patricia Luhanga, ECZ Corporate Affairs Manager, denounced the violence.
She said campaigns were initially peaceful.
“It is therefore regrettable, and worrying to start recording violence with just a few days before the poll day,” Luhanga said.
– CAJ News