Zambian police officers have begun escorting sensitive voting materials the Electoral Commission of Zambia would use to administer the August 11 presidential, legislative and local elections, and referendum.
Incumbent President Edgar Lungu of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party faces a stiff challenge from main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema from the United Party for National Development (UPND) in the presidential vote.
Rae Hamonga, spokesperson for the Zambian police, says officers would be up to the task on election day to ensure prospective voters cast their ballots in peace and without fear or intimidation.
“So far we have began escorting the election materials that are going to the various provinces,” said Hamonga. “As regards to the deployment of officers, we are on course, by next week we should be able to finish the deployment of officers for all polling stations and polling points.”
Some Zambians have expressed concern about the readiness of the police to maintain peace as well as train officers to be effective at polling stations. Opposition political parties accused police of bias and favoritism as well as doing the bidding of President Lungu and his governing PF party.
Police spokesperson Hamonga denied that officers are biased. He says the police see the upcoming elections as routine since, he says, last year’s presidential by election was conducted peacefully due to measures officers implemented.
“We don’t take things for granted. This year again, we did conduct some training for our officers. All those to the polling stations were trained in electoral policies with the help of the United Nations Development Program. So we trained our officers and these officers were given handbooks, and pocket books for that matter, just to remind them of electoral processes and electoral malpractices and of things to look for and how to police the elections in such a period,” said Hamonga.
Activists express concern
Civil society groups and religious groups have expressed concern about the spate of violence during the ongoing campaigns. Supporters of the ruling PF and those from the UPND have traded accusations of carrying out violence and intimidation.
“As police we have actually arrested cadres from the opposition and also from the ruling party. So the issue of people getting worried about violence, we want to assure them that as Zambia police we are equal to the task and we will handle these elections without much ado, we will ensure that law and order is maintained. Zambia is known as a peaceful oasis and it will remain so as long as Zambia police [are] alive and we are still alive to ensure that nobody from whatever quarter will try to do things that would want to disturb the peace that we enjoy as a country,” said Hamonga.
His comments came after main opposition leader Hichilema accused the police of favoring President Lungu. In a letter to the police, the UPND warned that the party’s planned final rally on August 10 would proceed as originally scheduled. Local media reported that the ruling party may use the same venue for a campaign event.
“We have submitted all the necessary documentation and followed due process. There is no sound or credible reason why we should not go ahead …During the campaign period, our permits and permissions have been resisted, denied or cancelled at last minute on numerous occasions in a blatant attempt to obstruct us and try and stop our campaigns. This has created an uneven playing field in which we are clearly being disadvantaged. It is extremely important that in these last few days all parties are allowed to campaign freely if the elections are to have any credibility, something we hope the election observers now registered in the country are watching closely,” said Hichilema.
Hamonga says the law is on the side of President Lungu because he remains the country’s leader despite the upcoming elections.
“When it comes to issues of campaign, which are referred to as public procession, you will find that during public procession, the law exempts the head of state and the vice president from notifying the police,” said Hamonga.