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Zambia Clergy Call for Calm Amid Challenge to Election Result

  • Peter Clottey

Supporters of Edgar Lungu, leader of the Patriotic Front, celebrate after Lungu narrowly won re-election, in a vote that rival Hakainde Hichilema rejected on claims of alleged rigging by the electoral commission, in Lusaka, Zambia, Aug. 15, 2016.

Supporters of Edgar Lungu, leader of the Patriotic Front, celebrate after Lungu narrowly won re-election, in a vote that rival Hakainde Hichilema rejected on claims of alleged rigging by the electoral commission, in Lusaka, Zambia, Aug. 15, 2016.

The Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops and leaders of the Council of Churches in Zambia, seeking to ease post-election tension in the country, have called for calm among all political parties and quick action by the courts to settle disputes.

The main opposition, the United Party for National Development, on Friday challenged the outcome of the August 11 presidential election before the Constitutional Court.

In its petition, the UPND alleged that incumbent Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front was fraudulently re-elected, and it asked the court to annul his status as president-elect. It also called for a nationwide recount of the votes cast because of what the UPND said were numerous voting irregularities.

In a letter to Zambians, the church leaders appealed to aggrieved parties to adhere to provisions in the law for settling election disputes. "We also appeal to the victorious party to avoid celebrating in a manner that will incense and provoke the losing party," they said.

"We further appeal to our courts to adjudicate the possible petition justly and expeditiously. We believe that our courts are the arbitrators of justice and play a critical role in strengthening the rule of law.”

Father Cleophas Lungu, secretary-general of the bishops conference, said there were some campaign challenges that should have been resolved before the elections.

“There were issues of electoral violence, issues of intimidation, issues of the lack of freedom to assemble for campaign and to express oneself in ways that would not go along with those in power," he said. "You could see the tension building up as the results were coming in" — so much so, he added, that when results were announced in some parts of the country, especially the northwestern part, there were incidents of violence.

“It is the constitutional right of any candidate or competing party to bring their issues through the court of law," Lungu said. "And when they take that route, we believe that that’s the best way to resolve these issues, rather than for people to take the law into their hands and behave in such a manner that brings havoc and destabilizes the flow of life of ordinary Zambians, some of whom do not really mind who wins or who loses.”

The church leaders also called on the PF and UPND to take responsibility and urge their supporters to desist from acts of violence.

Church groups including the Council of Churches in Zambia, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, the Jesuit Center for Reflection and the Zambian Conference of Catholic Bishops deployed over 1,600 people across the country to monitor this month's election. Lungu said the poll observers concluded that the elections had been conducted “very well.”

Lungu said there was some conduct that didn't contribute to strengthening democracy in the country, including the tardy opening of some polling stations and campaigning by some people on election day. "But by and large, we would say the electoral process could be said to be credible,” he said.

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