Five Zambian political parties including the ruling Patriotic Front have signed new pledges committing themselves to ensuring that supporters desist from violence ahead of the August 11 general election.
The parties renewed their pledges after a meeting Friday in the capital, Lusaka, with officials of the Electoral Commission of Zambia and church groups. The other signatories were the United National Independence Party, the People’s Alliance for Change, the Forum for Democracy and Development, and the Democratic Alliance.
The electoral commission sought to meet with all stakeholders as part of an effort to curb escalating violence, which prompted a suspension of campaigning for 10 days in the Namwala and Lusaka districts. The commission plans to lift the suspension Monday.
Despite the pledges, Zambia's main opposition party, the United Party for National Development, refused to commit to peaceful campaigning on the ground that its demands were not met during the meeting with the electoral commission.
The Rainbow Party and the United Progressive People also refused to sign the no-violence pledge.
Spokesman Chris Akufuna said the electoral commission's main goal for Friday's meeting was to win support from all parties and candidates for "a pledge for peace" during the remaining weeks of the campaign.
Those who declined to sign the no-violence pledge, Akufuna said, “felt we needed an addendum ... [to] assure them of their rights and freedom in terms of assembly and association during the campaigns.”
Objection to suspension
Public reaction to the suspension of campaigning in Namwala and Lusaka has been mixed, Akufuna said. One party that signed the new peace pledge, the Forum for Democracy and Development, has challenged the electoral commission's legal authority to suspend campaigning. The Constitutional Court plans to begin hearing the challenge next week.
FDD spokesman Antonio Mwanza said the commission's action was "extremely unreasonable" and resulted in "a blanket suspension that actually punishes the victims of violence and innocent people instead of ... the perpetrators of violence.”
Akufuna said the commission had no comment because the case was now before the court.
“There are some political parties that have supported our call in terms of suspending the political party campaigns [and] there are some political parties that feel we have violated their rights, their freedom of association,” said Akufuna. “The commission, as things stand, has said that the political party that has taken us to court is a stakeholder and is at liberty to seek legal interpretation in terms of the law in as far as it stands. So the commission is perhaps waiting for the ruling of the court.”
In a separate development, the electoral commission reported the printing of presidential ballot papers for next month's vote is about 60 percent complete.