Zambia’s government using violence to steal elections, opposition says
“Ruling party cadres are dressing up in police uniforms and battering opposition supporters, breaking their legs as well as shooting people,” Hichelema, the leader of the United Party of National Development (UPND), said in an exclusive interview.
The ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party has denied these claims about violence and said that political parties are free to campaign ahead of the elections, according to news agency Reuters.
Zambia’s electoral commission suspended political campaigning until 18 July after police shot and killed an opposition supporter in Lusaka on 8 July. “The commission appeals to all political party leaders to counsel and control their cadres in the interest of making peace in our country,” it said in a statement.
Hichilema called on the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) to intervene in what he said is a worsening confrontation ahead of elections next month.”Why is the international community silent? It seems that some are waiting for more blood to be spilt,” Hichelma said. “We need the international community to become active … [as well as] the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the AU and the UN.” He said it is clear that “people would not accept a stolen election next month.”
Hichelema was speaking after the murder of a student wearing a shirt in the colours of the UPND. The young man was shot dead on 24 June just after he had been to church, UPND officials said.
The growing concerns about Zambia’s elections are not on the agenda for the AU’s next meeting, which will take place in Kigali from 10-18 July. Hichelema wants the AU and the SADC to call a meeting of all the political parties and civic organisations in Zambia to address concerns about vote rigging and intimidation.
“We want all the parties and civic organisations to have access to the electoral register now so we can scrutinise it properly and independently,” said Hichelema. “Already, a very limited audit of the register by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has uncovered 50,000 false names.”
These accusations over the credibility of electoral register follow the government’s decision to contract Al Ghurair Printing & Publishing in Dubai to produce the ballot papers at around twice the price of the bid from South Africa’s Ren-Form CC Printers, which printed ballots in the last elections.
An all-party team is now in Dubai to inspect the company’s premises, but opposition activists are dissatisfied with their level of access.
The PF government and elements of the media are in a tense standoff. The Post, a leading independent daily paper in Zambia, had carried several reports about what it called the ruling PF’s ballot-rigging plans and the inflation of the electoral register. It also carried on its website an audio recording of two PF officials discussing ballot-stuffing tactics.
Joseph Mwenda, deputy managing editor of The Post, tells The Africa Report: “One of the things that our newspaper did was expose the rigging plans by the government […] They had brought in Timor Consulting from Israel to do some electioneering. But then the president [Edgar Lungu] wrote a letter to the intelligence [services] stating the intelligence unit should work with this company to help get a victory for the ruling party. We got a hold of that information. We got the letter, and we published it.”
Mwenda highlights other concerns: “The ruling party has registered hundreds of thousands of foreigners to come into [Zambia] and vote on 11 August and secure victory for the ruling party.”
In a surprise move, the government sent in the Zambia Revenue Authority with armed police to close down the newspaper on 21 June for failing to pay back taxes, and government security forces have occupied the site since then. “They are saying we have $15-20m in unpaid taxes. But we produced tax receipts showing that we don’t owe the amount that they are claiming,” Mwenda explains.
Hichelema said the government’s move to close The Post, which has been critical of him in the past, is clearly political and part of a wider election-rigging strategy.
Although both the country’s High Court and the Tax Appeals Registrar have ruled that The Post’s offices should be immediately reopened and the newspaper allowed to resume publishing, government security officers refuse to allows workers back on the premises.