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Confrontation Possible in Lusaka Over Election Protest

Supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front celebrate the results of the presidential election in Lusaka, Zambia, Aug. 15, 2016.
Supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front celebrate the results of the presidential election in Lusaka, Zambia, Aug. 15, 2016.

Zambia's ruling Patriotic Front has called on police to prevent thousands of opposition supporters from gathering Friday at the Constitutional Court to challenge the outcome of last week's presidential election.

The United Party for National Development urged its backers to go to the court and back its petition on the August 11 election, won by incumbent President Edgar Lungu.

Lungu's deputy campaign manager, Frank Bwalya, said a mass gathering of UPND supporters could create tension and possible violence.

“The tone in the UPND calling upon their members to turn up in huge numbers to go to court where they intend to file an election petition, the tone is not that of peace," Bwalya said. "It is a tone of incitement to violence, it is a tone of bitterness and a lot of anger."

'Their plan ... is to riot'

If opposition party supporters are allowed to gather in large numbers at the court, Bwalya added, "their plan tomorrow is to riot.”

UPND officials rejected Bwalya’s accusation as unfounded. The party had previously asked its followers not to engage in any violence at the court.

Opposition supporters said the Patriotic Front's call for police action against them tramples on their constitutional right to assemble. They called this yet another attempt by the government to use dictatorial and draconian means to curtail their freedoms.

Bwalya dismissed those criticisms: "To file a petition, you require a lawyer and a few people," not a big group "descending on the court." He called the planned demonstration "unreasonable," an inconvenience to the public and "not the way things are done."

"The background is that of a party that is very bitter and angry, claiming that their vote was stolen," Bwalya said, adding that the ruling party was not trying to block the opposition from petitioning the court, even though that might delay the presidential installation ceremony scheduled for Tuesday.

Two weeks to decide

The Constitutional Court has 14 days to decide whether to accept the UPND's petition.

The Electoral Commission of Zambia declared Lungu winner of the presidential election with 50.35 percent of the vote, compared with 47.67 percent for the main opposition candidate, Hakainde Hichilema of the UPND.

Lungu's precise vote total is key, since a new constitutional provision requires a vote of more than 50 percent to certify an election winner.

UPND spokesman Charles Kakoma told VOA the opposition party has evidence to prove that last week's ballot was rigged in favor of Lungu and his Patriotic Front.

“There are a lot of irregularities that were discovered in the electoral process, as well as deliberate mistakes by the Electoral Commission of Zambia," Kakoma said. "They manipulated a lot of figures, which they gave to the sitting president to make him win. ... That is doctoring results of an election, and that should not be allowed in a democratic society."