With just over a month an half before Zambians go to the polls, campaigns have been characterised with violence – a situation that has caught the attention of both the country’s political and non-political stakeholders and its diplomatic community.
Over a week ago, the country’s election management body, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), warned that it would not hesitate to suspend campaigns if violence continued. The ECZ went on to warn that parties found to be perpetuating violence could also be banned from contesting in the elections.
Although there are 9 party candidates competing for the highest office in the land, the rivalry seems rife between the ruling Patriot Front (PF) and the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND). Images shared via social media show supporters from both party camps engaged in violence and carrying weapons ranging from machetes to catapults and stones. Clearly, the warnings from ECZ have not been heeded to.
Appeals for peaceful campaigns have been made by religious leaders like Lusaka’s Catholic Archbishop, Telesphore-George Mpundu, leader of the Zambia Episcopal Conference, a representative body for the Catholic Church, who added his voice to calls for issue-based rather than violence-dented campaigns.
During a meeting called by Republican President and PF Presidential candidate Edgar Lungu, at which he was updating members of the diplomatic community on the state of national preparedness ahead of the August 11 elections, Lungu stated that his government was concerned about the recent incidences of violence noting that the events had potential to harm the country’s reputation as a beacon of peace and stability on the continent.
He went on to say that his government had taken measures aimed ensuring that a peaceful environment prevailed that allowed all political parties to carry out campaigns without fear or intimidation. He also said that he had been in discussions with the police service chief who he instructed to deal with perpetrators of violence regardless of their party affiliations.
Lungu was however quick to point out that diplomats accredited to Zambia were overstepping their lines when they started commenting on internal national issues. He compared the conduct of the diplomats to that of his country’s representatives in their respective countries who, he said, did not comment on their internal issues.
Diplomats have in the last few days been making comments about the happenings in the Southern African country; latest among them being Germany Ambassador to that country Bernd Finke who called for “a zero tolerance policy against perpetrators of political violence”. Finke said the continued political violence should not only be condemned but acted upon swiftly in order to preserve the country’s peace and unity.
Earlier in the month, local media quoted the European Union (EU) delegation to Zambia as having said in a statement that “The absence of violence is required to guarantee the Zambian people their democratic rights to free, fair and peaceful elections. The EU has invested close to US10 million in the election in through a project managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Zambia.