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Zambia’s Lungu Issues Warning on Election-linked Violence

FILE - Zambian President Edgar Lungu is seen at the 24th Ordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) at the organization's headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 30, 2015.

Zambian President Edgar Lungu says he is ready to use draconian means to ensure the country remains peaceful after next week’s presidential, parliamentary, local and referendum elections.

Lungu from the ruling Patriotic Party says he has intelligence that members of the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) plan to cause havoc if the party is unable to win the polls.

But in an interview with VOA, Canisius Banda, deputy leader of the UPND, says Lungu’s statement is unfortunate and regrettable. He says the president has the backing of the constitution to ensure the unity of Zambia.

Banda, however, says the president would rather plunge the country into tension, violence and chaos if he uses draconian means to enforce peace.

“President Lungu is speaking out of turn. Going the draconian way by its very definition is breaching peace. There is relative peace in this country at the moment and the president just has to uphold the constitution that he swore to uphold on his inauguration," he said. "There is no provision in the republican constitution for him to begin to be illegal and to go the draconian way as he says. That is illegal…It’s repugnant [and] we do not expect a sitting head of state to behave in such a manner.”

“All we are calling for are free and fair elections…If they are free and fair, even if President Lungu won, we would hold our peace. We would say ‘look democracy has prevailed.’ But there is perversion of democracy here….,” he added.

Banda says supporters of the governing PF party are to blame for the escalating violence in the ongoing campaigns in the run-up to next week’s elections and referendum. He says the UPND has evidence of PF cadres attacking members of the opposition party and tearing down its campaign posters in various parts of the country.

Supporters of incumbent Zambian President Edgar Lungu cheer on May 21, 2016, at the Heroes Stadium in Lusaka during the launch of his re-election campaign ahead of polling day on August 11.
Supporters of incumbent Zambian President Edgar Lungu cheer on May 21, 2016, at the Heroes Stadium in Lusaka during the launch of his re-election campaign ahead of polling day on August 11.

The PF supporters deny the accusation. They said it is the UPND that is to blame for the violence, and that the opposition party wants to use violence as a means to win the presidential vote.

‘No need to clamp down’

Both the PF and the UPND have traded accusations of carrying out violence against opponents.

Lungu says he has given strict instructions to the security agencies, including the police, to clamp down on those who want to cause trouble ahead of the vote. He also warned political leaders to stop using hate speech with the aim of scoring political points to win votes during the elections.

He accused the UPND of using its “Operation Watermelon” to create tension in the country to ensure the country is ungovernable if the party loses the polls.

Banda disagreed.

“The UPND is using Operation Watermelon for survival purposes," he said. "If you wear a UPND shirt openly you would be attacked… So now we have told our members you can even wear PF green, but inside your heart you know that you are read….It’s got nothing to do with violence, we are peaceful, we are law abiding, we want Zambia to remain united, peaceful and focused on national development.”

“He shouldn’t be using words like clamping down, there is no need to clamp down on anything. All he needs to do is to respect the constitution," he added. "There are laws provided for, for crimes anybody that beats another that is an assault, it’s a crime. So, let the police operate professionally. The police in this country have been politicized, they are getting instructions from President Lungu and his cabinet.”

Lungu faces a stiff challenge from main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema from the UPND in the upcoming August 11 presidential election.