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Economics Group Works to Reschedule Zambian Presidential Debate

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The chairman of the Economics Association of Zambia says his group is working with political parties to plan a presidential debate before the January 20 election after a previously scheduled one was canceled.

Isaac Ngoma said EAZ is committed to providing Zambian voters the opportunity to hear from the candidates.

“We are hoping that we can get the political parties to come round and ensure that this debate goes on, because there is commitment," he said. "Right from the beginning, we had received overwhelming support and commitment from each of the political parties that we had lined up for the debate.

“We have started talking to them now, trying to come up with another suitable date on which this can be done. We understand that time that we have is pretty short, and they are also busy campaigning for votes. But they can surely make some time and get back into the city and do this [debate] only for two hours.”

Last week, the EAZ canceled its planned two-hour debate after Edgar Lungu, candidate for the ruling Patriotic Front, reportedly pulled out because of conflicting campaign commitments.

His withdrawal, the local media report suggested, prompted main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development to also pull out of the debate.

Ngoma said the initially scheduled debate was beset with challenges after the Zambia Broadcasting Corp., a state broadcaster, decided not to broadcast the debate live on both of its television and radio stations. But he said the debate should not have been called off after the parties pledged their support.

“I reckon that this shouldn’t have happened, because first and foremost there was commitment from everyone," he said. "We also got clearance from the electoral commission that being a private organization and sponsoring the paid-for program, we were not subject to the rules of the electoral code of conduct. And they signed a memorandum of understanding that we had put up to ensure that they participate in this debate.”

Some smaller parties accused the EAZ of discrimination after they were not invited to be part of the debate.

But Ngoma said his group chose to limit the debate to candidates whose parties were represented in parliament.