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Fear grips opposition campaigns as Zambia goes to the polls

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PF Cadre attempting to attack the UPND campaign team in Muchinga province

PF Cadre attempting to attack the UPND campaign team in Muchinga province

By Mutinta Himunyanga

WITH two days before Zambia goes to the 11th August, Elections, there is an increase in fear, political violence, voter intimidation and the police has been biased towards the ruling Patriotic Front (PF). The atmosphere of fear has gripped the opposition campaigns with opposition leaders advising their supporters not to wear their party regalia. “The venue is fully packed with the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) supporters, with some even standing outside the venue. Ideally, one would expect noise of slogans and songs in support of their party leader, but these supporters are quiet and for those standing outside their eyes are on the lookout for their opponents, the PF supporters who can attack them anytime. Their party leadership that includes the aspiring Member of Parliament, the aspiring representative for the local government, the party top officials in the Constituency, walks into the venue and they too chant their party slogans almost whispering and this is to avoid attracting attention from outside for fear of been attacked by the PF members”, this is what the writer witnessed. In response to the violent electoral environment, the opposition UPND has since launched what they are calling Watermelon Operation to safeguard the lives of their supporters. It simply means that UPND are allowed to wear PF campaign materials which is represented by the colour green and yet inside they know they are supporting UPND whose many colour is red. UPND has since defended the Watermelon operation by saying it is 100% peaceful and designed to offer their supporters protection by wearing ruling PF regalia but voting UPND. UPND Secretary Stephen Katuka added that their supporters need not to fear because their vote is their choice and their vote is secret. However, President Edgar Lungu has described the plan as evil and aimed at causing havoc in the nation. Ironically, the PF adopted “Don’t Kubeba, shhhhh!” a similar strategy against the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in 2011 elections. “Don’t Kubeba, shhhhh!” simply meant, please be quiet and don’t openly show you political preference. It advised PF supporters to wait for the election and show their preference on the ballot as a safety precaution against MMD violence and intimidation. It seems the UPND is using a similar strategy to deal with PF violence and intimidation by telling its supporters to wear green colours to avoid persecution and only show their preference in the ballot box. And aspiring opposition MP for Kabwata Constituency has charged that, the Zambian Police Service and the Law Enforcement Agencies have completely failed to deal with the current high levels of political violence and are bias towards PF. Mulenga Sata (former son of the late Zambian President and PF founder, Michael Sata) now contesting under the UPND in an interview said, the Zambia Police and other law enforcement agencies are pledging their royalty to the ruling PF simply to safeguard their jobs. “It is sad that the levels of political violence have reached alarming rates and the police is favouring and covering the ruling Party. Just last month, police shot and killed 3 UPND members during a public march in the Central business area of Lusaka,” Said Sata. On Sunday the UNPD was holding a rally in Matero Constituency and again its supporters were openly attacked by PF members and one of their members was injured. Sata accused the top leadership of PF of fuelling the violence by their careless statements and personal based campaigns. “It is shameful and very embarrassing that a country like Zambia that has seen more than 20 years of multi-party democracy can stoop so low as to embrace stone-age kind of politics where others are not allowed to freely express their views,” said Sata. Sata advised President Edgar Lungu to move away from personalised attacks on the opposition leaders and tell the people of Zambia what he intends to do for them if voted back into power. He added that Zambians are looking for social, economic and development change and empowerment. Sata noted that there is a need to completely amend the Zambian constitution to allow total separation of power. Sata added that the constitution still allows the republican President to appoint all the police Chiefs and other law enforcement agency including the High Court Judges and this compromises the integrity of their work and office. He stated that there is also need to enforce the freedom of expression. Sata disclosed that violence has really impacted negatively on the opposition campaigns and they are unable to campaign freely for fear of being attacked.     And political Analyst Dante Saunders has charged that the ruling PF has repeatedly abused the Public Order Act (POA). Saunders said the government is manipulating the law to stop campaigning by the opposition parties. The POA is a law inherited from colonial masters, Britain, before independence in 1964. The law states that individuals must notify the police at least seven days in advance if they wish to hold a public meeting. And a later clause allows for the arrest and imprisonment of those taking part in a public meeting that does not have a permit-which is rather confusing since there is no earlier mention of the need for a permit. Saunders noted that this and many other inconsistencies make the POA “a bad law in a democratic nation”. He added that it was sad that last month some UPND supporters were killed and no official statement has been released to explain why live bullets were used by police to displace UPND supporters who were matching in the central business centre of Lusaka. Meanwhile, Electoral Commission of Zambia has threatened to disqualify any leader of a political party who will be found to fanning violence ahead of august 11 elections. However, it is still to be seen whether the ECZ will be able to flex its muscle especially against the incumbent PF establishment who are alleged to be instigating violence with impunity. ECZ had earlier placed a 10 days suspension of public political campaigns in Lusaka and Namwala disticts in Southern Province, which has since been lifted. But this seems to not have managed to deal with the rising tide of violence and intimidation.

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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31