2021 GENERAL ELECTIONS
President Lungu calls in Zambian army after political murder ‘mayhem’ as concern mounts that he may dispute poll outcome
Observers are concerned that President Edgar Lungu will use violent incidents to justify a clampdown and an invalidation of election results in opposition strongholds.
Zambian President Edgar Lungu has ordered the army to step up its presence in three provinces where he accused opposition parties of turning the country’s elections into a “war” after two prominent members of his party were murdered.
The Patriotic Front’s leader in the North Western Province, Jackson Kungo, as well as Emmanuel Chihili, the brother of another leader, were allegedly murdered on Thursday as thousands of Zambians came out to vote.
In a statement marked “very urgent” late on Thursday, Lungu said the “mayhem” in this province as well as in “parts of Western, Southern provinces” has “effectively rendered the elections in the three provinces not free and fair”.
Lungu did not say what the suspected motive for the alleged murders were, but he blamed supporters of the United Party for National Development and its presidential candidate, Hakainde Hichilema.
“How can you talk about free and fair elections when our opponents have taken this election as war?” he said. “When people say elections were not free and fair, they accuse the ruling party, but look at North Western Province, some parts of Western and Southern provinces, who is causing the mayhem? The opposition.”
Lungu said he had directed that the army send reinforcements to those provinces to “ensure peace returns to the rest of the country”.
Observers have, however, expressed concern that Lungu would use these incidents to justify a clampdown and an invalidation of the results in these opposition strongholds.
Nicole Beardsworth, lecturer in politics at the University of the Witwatersrand, who is in the country doing research on the elections, said: “We’ve seen President Lungu banging the drums on UPND violence for the last 10 days, despite very limited evidence of violence. This terrible, but isolated incident looks like it will be used to invalidate pro-opposition results in UPND strongholds,” she said.
“Also note that the military has been sent and reinforced to those three provinces which could aggravate the situation.”
Lungu first ordered the army on to the streets after two party activists were killed in clashes earlier this month. Campaigning was temporarily suspended in three areas because of this.
Fears of a social media blackout in the country were also realised when the WhatsApp service went down around lunchtime. Other social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook soon followed.
Activists have complained that the playing fields weren’t level before the elections and that Covid-19 restrictions were used to scupper their efforts to campaign on the ground.
Voters who braved long queues in Lusaka said they were doing so because they felt their vote could make a change.
“I’m here to exercise my right. I have to make sure the person I want to see in office makes it,” said Susan, a 39-year-old trade unionist. She said even if the candidate she was supporting didn’t make it, “at least my conscience would have been addressed”. She said if she stayed home “and then the candidate I want to see there loses, and I [might] feel maybe it’s because I didn’t pass my vote”.
Many have expressed faith in the voting system, like Marcus, 31, who said he voted for the first time because he’s unhappy with the status quo. He comes from a family of nine siblings who are scattered all over the country, and most of them voted.
He said even one of his sisters, who has been supporting the Patriotic Front, did not vote for Lungu this time. “If things are going wrong, [our leaders] would always explain things, but this one, he is always quiet,” he said. “He will only speak out if someone from the opposition said something bad, and then condemning what the other guy is saying. But if it comes to the issues where the people want answers, he doesn’t show up.”
People have also expressed frustration with party cadres, gangs of PF-affiliated supporters who are, at times, a law unto themselves. These cadres do “street business”, which includes extracting money from minibus taxis for using certain stops.
Many of these cadres were also at the forefront of a highly visible campaign by the governing party in the two days before the elections in Lusaka this week, when trucks with blaring campaign music drove up and down the streets to hand out T-shirts and campaign material.
Most of the early, unverified results that became available soon after the official closing of polling stations at 6pm were strongly in favour of Hichilema. DM
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