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Zambia Police Warn Political Parties Over Violence Ahead of Polls

FILE - A burnt out vehicle lays on its roof in Lusaka, Zambia, April 7, 2016.

A Zambian police official says the police force will carry out its mandate to enforce the law irrespective of the political party supporters involved in violence during the ongoing campaigns before the August 11 polls.

Rae Hamonga, deputy spokesperson for the police, made his remarks after Zambians complained about the escalating violence allegedly carried out by supporters of the ruling Patriot Front party and partisans of the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND).

On March 29, religious leaders held a meeting with 19 political parties in Lusaka, with the main objective of curbing politically related violence as the groups intensify their campaigns in the upcoming presidential, legislative and local elections.

A communique was issued following the meeting signed by all the parties, with the commitment to stop their supporters from engaging in violence. The parties and their leaders also committed to deal internally with all issues that often lead to violence.

Subsequently, the church leaders held another meeting with all of the presidential candidates and their running mates as a follow up, to stress the need to ensure the election is not marred by violence. Civil society and religious groups said the violence continues despite efforts to curb them.

“Even though we are in the campaign period, we know that crime is still in our midst. As regards to issues relating to the political cadres clashing, this is also a wakeup call for the political leaders themselves to remind their cadres that Zambia is a multiparty state. And that being the case, that means each and every person is free to form a political party,” said Hamonga.

But some civil society groups said the police have yet to implement any measures to prevent or curb the ongoing violence despite repeated promises to do so. They said calling political leaders to ensure their supporters do not engage in violence appears not to have worked since there are reports of repeated clashes between opponents.

Opposition groups have also accused the police of bias. They said the police often use violence to undermine their campaigns while activities of the ruling PF party are unhindered. The parties also accused the police of bias in enforcing the public order act, which requires political parties to inform the police before undertaking campaign events. The opposition parties say the police show favoritism to the ruling party.

“If anybody commits a crime now, what we have decided to do is to arrest them and we have doing those arrests… So far we have arrested political cadres from both the ruling party and the opposition,” said Hamonga.

“The public order act, when somebody wants to hold a public procession it allows the head of state, the vice president, the speaker of the national assembly and the deputy not to notify the police of their intentions to hold public processions or a meeting…When we tell [opposition political parties] that the president enjoys the right not to notify the police because it is assumed that the head of state holds the interest for the whole nation. So there is no person who can stand in the way of the head of state. So that is where the opposition parties think the police [are] biased.”

Meanwhile, the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) condemned the police for raiding its offices in the capital, Lusaka, on Friday. Some staff and volunteers were detained and questioned following the raid. UPND Secretary General Stephen Katuka accused the police of doing the bidding of the ruling party to thwart the opposition campaigns.

Local media quoted Katuka as saying “It is unclear to us on what grounds this assault was conducted. This office is a regular party campaign center, coordinating some of our outreach efforts to new and existing members in Lusaka and beyond. What was the suspicion and where is the evidence to suggest that there was any legitimate reason for the offensive? There must be clear grounds for such an assault, or can we no longer call ourselves a functioning democracy.”

But, police spokesperson Hamonga rejects the accusation as unfounded.

“The police got a search warrant and they have seized some things... Our investigations are still going on and for fear of jeopardizing our investigation, I would not divulge much…But watch out within a short period of time within the next two three days we would give a comment about this matter,” said Hamonga.