A Zambian opposition party has challenged the electoral commission's decision to suspend campaigns in Namwala and Lusaka following a surge in politically related violence in the two cities.
The Forum for Democracy and Development petitioned the Constitutional Court, which by law must handle all election-related disputes in Zambia within seven days after they are filed.
The Electoral Commission of Zambia said it has the constitutional authority to change campaign timetables, and that it therefore could suspend the campaigning after the violence, which allegedly was carried out by supporters of the main opposition United Party for National Development. The violence in Namwala left FDD parliamentary candidate Charity Kabongomana injured and hospitalized.
Electoral law specifies sanctions that should be meted out to individuals or political parties and their candidates proven to have engaged in violence.
“We are questioning the legal mandate that the electoral commission used in suspending the campaigns in Lusaka and Namwala. When we perused through the [electoral] act, we found that the Electoral Commission of Zambia actually does not have the mandate by law to suspend election campaigns," said Antonio Mwanza, FDD spokesman.
“We found it extremely unreasonable for the Electoral Commission of Zambia to put up a blanket suspension that actually punishes the victims of violence and innocent people, instead of ... the perpetrators of violence,” he said.
Commission officials told VOA that the FDD had several times petitioned the electoral body to help stop the campaign violence ahead of the August 11 presidential, legislative and local elections. They asked why the FDD would take the matter to court after the electoral commission acted to allow the political parties to educate their supporters to eschew violence.
Critics said the FDD should not have taken the matter to court because the suspension will only last a few days, with campaigns in Namwala and Lusaka resuming next week.
FDD spokesman Mwanza disagreed. He said the electoral commission had failed to impose sanctions provided for in the electoral act, despite the FDD’s compiled evidence of the attack on its parliamentary candidate as well as a police report singling out the perpetrators of the attack. The FDD wanted the electoral commission to disqualify or suspend the UPND candidate.
“The electoral commission has not acted on the complaints we sent to them, and it is therefore unfair and unreasonable for them to punish our candidate in Namwala, who is actually the victim of the violence," Mwanza said.
“The [suspension] period might be short, but illegalities cannot be tolerated. ... If we do not respect the constitutional provisions for our own country and allow lawlessness and illegality as the Electoral Commission of Zambia is doing, then we as a country, we are doomed," he said. "Because the next day, the Electoral Commission of Zambia might decide to suspend the campaign period for the entire country, and what are we going to do about it?”