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Zambian President Turns Down Request to Meet with Main Opposition Leader

  • Peter Clottey

FILE - Opposition United Party for National Development president Hakainde Hichilema (C) talks to journalists in Lusaka, March 2, 2016.

FILE - Opposition United Party for National Development president Hakainde Hichilema (C) talks to journalists in Lusaka, March 2, 2016.

Zambia's ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party says President Edgar Lungu will not meet with main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema from the United Party for National Development (UPND).

Hichilema called for a meeting between the two to resolve "pertinent" national issues, including the ongoing violence in the country following the August 11 general election and referendum. The opposition leader also called on church groups and the international community to organize a meeting between the two men to help resolve the crisis.

Frank Bwalya, deputy campaign manager for the ruling PF party, said Lungu will not meet with the opposition leader until Hichilema renounces the violence allegedly perpetrated by supporters of the UPND in the party's strongholds.

FILE - Supporters of the ruling party celebrate the results of the presidential elections in Lusaka, Zambia, Aug. 15, 2016.

FILE - Supporters of the ruling party celebrate the results of the presidential elections in Lusaka, Zambia, Aug. 15, 2016.

"President Lungu was very categorical. He says, ‘Let that man abandon his violent ways. Let him choose to walk the path of peace, then I am going to meet him.’ The president was very clear," Bwalya said.

The ruling party insists Hichilema’s motive for the meeting is false.

Hichilema "wants to present himself to the international community as a reasonable person,” Bwalya said, “a person who wants to dialogue, a person who has the interest of the country at heart. … That is not true."

In a letter to the media, the opposition UPND expressed disappointment in Lungu’s decision not to accept the meeting.

"We have made this same request on numerous occasions knowing that dialogue rather than violence is the way to proceed, and that the leaders of our respective parties must lead by example in such matters," said Charles Kakoma, spokesperson for the opposition UPND.

Critics say Lungu's refusal to meet the opposition leader stokes tension in the country, instead of demonstrating a desire for unity and cooperation.

In addition, UPND supporters blame the PF for the ongoing violence, and accuse police of bias toward the ruling party.

FILE - A tally board shows updated results of the presidential elections at the electoral results centre in Lusaka, Zambia, Aug. 15, 2016.

FILE - A tally board shows updated results of the presidential elections at the electoral results centre in Lusaka, Zambia, Aug. 15, 2016.

"While our calls for a meeting go unanswered, our supporters are beaten for wearing UPND regalia, chased from the markets and driven from the taxi ranks so that they can no longer work and support their families,” local media quoted UPND spokesman Kakoma as saying. “Is this the Zambia we want for our children? Is this the mark of a Christian nation? When we call for peace, these are the people we are speaking for."

Court challenge

Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court is considering the UPND's petition challenging the outcome of the presidential election. The Electoral Commission of Zambia declared incumbent Lungu winner of the presidential poll.

In its petition, the UPND alleged that Lungu was fraudulently elected and asked the court to annul his status as president-elect. It also called for a nationwide recount of the votes cast.

But the PF maintains the elections were free, fair and transparent in accordance with the conclusion of both local and international poll observers who monitored the elections.

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