The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has warned political parties and their supporters to stop engaging in violence as the parties intensify their campaigns for August 11 presidential, parliamentary and local elections.
Chris Akufuna, spokesman for the electoral commission, says the constitution empowers the electoral body to suspend or prevent a political party, as well as candidates, from participating in elections if it concludes that party supporters have engaged in acts of violence in the runup to the polls.
There have been accusations and counter-accusations between supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party and the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND).
“The commission has observed with dismay the rising levels of intolerance and violence and to that effect, the commission has condemned the misbehavior, the intolerance and violence. And it is for that reason that the commission has reminded political parties that they should conduct their campaigns peacefully. If they do not, then the commission will invoke this power contained in section 28 and section 110 of the Electoral Process Bill, which empowers the commission to suspend campaigns or indeed disqualify a candidate,” said Akufuna.
Some Zambians have questioned the ability of the electoral commission to investigate the ongoing violence before taking action ahead of the elections. Some political parties had accused police and other state security agencies of being biased in favor of the ruling party and its supporters.
Police officials say Zambia police are constitutionally empowered to enforce the law irrespective of political affiliation. They rejected the accusation of bias in favor of the ruling PF.
Asked when the electoral commission will conclude that a particular group of people is complicit in carrying out violence against opponents, spokesman Akufuna said the electoral body is working with security agencies to prevent further acts of violence.
“It is for that reason that the commission has decided firstly to remind them, to warn them. So we have made it clear to them that we are watching events unfolding and if that behavior continues, the commission will have no alternative, but to invoke that part of the law, either to follow up with these political parties that are reported to be causing the violence or indeed to disqualify their candidate,” said Akufuna.
He also says the electoral commission has called on the police to deal firmly with perpetrators of violence.
Political parties recently met with religious leaders following the escalation of violence. Party leaders promised to encourage their supporters to avoid engaging in violence in the run up to the polls. But recent local media reports show escalating violence despite the pledge by the political leaders.
Electoral commission spokesman Akufuna says the religious leaders appear to be disappointed that supporters of the parties are still engaging in violence.
“We are aware that yes, they made the pledge that they are going to conduct themselves in a peaceful manner. The church is equally disturbed and we have just heard from the church condemning the rising levels of violence.”