Zam­bia: Free polls or vote snatch­ing?

Lesotho Times - - Leader - Vito lat­erza

ZAM­BIA’S in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Edgar Lungu, leader of the Pa­tri­otic Front (PF), was re­elected af­ter a highly con­tested elec­tion.

The final re­sults gave him a lead of around 100,000 votes over op­po­nent Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the United Party for Na­tional Devel­op­ment (UPND).

Zam­bians voted for the first time with a tworound sys­tem. Lungu won the pres­i­dency out­right, gain­ing an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity in the first round - he re­ceived 50.35 per­cent of the vote.

Hichilema im­me­di­ately con­tested the out­come and said that Lungu stole the UPND can­di­date’s vic­tory by rig­ging. Party of­fi­cials an­nounced that they will chal­lenge the re­sults, fol­low­ing the le­gal route of a pe­ti­tion to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court.

Not the first Al­le­ga­tions of rig­ging are not new in the his­tory of Zam­bia’s multi-party elec­tions. The dif­fer­ence this time is that ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties started well be­fore Elec­tion Day.the cam­paign was marred by un­prece­dented lev­els of po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence, lead­ing to sev­eral peo­ple be­ing killed and many in­jured.

Crowds of PF sup­port­ers at­tacked op­po­si­tion followers and chased them away from ur­ban neigh­bour­hoods across the coun­try. How­ever, the UPND was not with­out blame. They mo­bilised their own crowds to re­tal­i­ate against PF, but with fewer re­sources and smaller num­bers.

To make things worse, the big­gest in­de­pen­dent news­pa­per, The Post, was shut down by the gov­ern­ment at the end of June, dras­ti­cally re­duc­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties for op­po­si­tion voices to be heard.

On Au­gust 11, the vot­ing pro­ceeded in a gen­er­ally peace­ful fash­ion, but in the fol­low­ing days the count­ing process saw nu­mer­ous ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and ma­jor de­lays in the final an­nounce­ment of re­sults.

In­ci­dents ranged from the ar­rest of a sus­pected rul­ing party hacker caught in the ver­i­fi­ca­tion room of the na­tional to­talling cen­tre where of­fi­cial re­sults were fi­nalised, to mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­pear­ing bal­lots, and claims that of­fi­cial forms with the final fig­ures from polling sta­tions and con­stituen­cies had not been given promptly to op­po­si­tion party agents.

In their pre­lim­i­nary find­ings, the Euro­pean Union ob­servers’ mis­sion did not de­clare the elec­tions “free and fair” and em­braced many of the op­po­si­tion con­cerns.

It is hard to say how the Con­sti­tu­tional Court will rule on the an­nounced UPND pe­ti­tion. The court can ei­ther ac­cept the re­sults, or nul­lify the elec­tion, in which case a new pres­i­den­tial con­test would be held within 30 days.

Deep­en­ing cri­sis If Lungu’s vic­tory is con­firmed, the im­pli­ca­tions for Zam­bia’s fu­ture would be far reach­ing. The PF crowds are not go­ing to dis­ap­pear.re­ports in­di­cated that on Au­gust 16 morn­ing, UPND followers’ homes were raided by rul­ing party sup­port­ers in Lusaka. On the same day, PF sup­port­ers also stormed the UPND sec­re­tar­iat and stole com­put­ers, doc­u­ments and food sup­plies from the build­ing.

The groups that ex­e­cute PF politi­cians’ deeds are formed by dis­en­fran­chised un­em­ployed young men.they are the re­sult of ne­olib­eral poli­cies which re­duced state sup­port for ba­sic ser­vices and handed over the cop­per mines and other sec­tors of the econ­omy to for­eign in­vestors.

They are only likely to in­crease in num­bers, as Zam­bia goes through the worst eco­nomic cri­sis in more than 10 years.

Vi­o­lence is the last sec­tor to have been “pri­va­tised”. The po­lice and the mil­i­tary have lost the mo­nop­oly over vi­o­lence. Strug­gles in the po­lit­i­cal arena have evolved into phys­i­cal con­fronta­tions be­tween op­pos­ing crowds of sup­port­ers.

Many fear that Lungu and his as­so­ci­ates will con­tinue to fur­ther clamp down on demo­cratic free­doms, to re­in­force their grip on state power.

Lungu’s cam­paign has ben­e­fited from ex­ter­nal help. The rul­ing party de­vel­oped close ties with Uganda’s Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni, and hired the ser­vices of Ti­mor Con­sult­ing, an Is­raeli firm that helped po­lit­i­cal par­ties win elec­tions in Sierra Leone, Mozam­bique and Botswana.

The PF leader has also built a strong base of followers in the wider so­ci­ety. Through his skil­ful ma­nip­u­la­tion of Chris­tian mes­sages, he gained the al­le­giance of the vastly pop­u­lar Pen­te­costal churches.

Fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of late Pres­i­dent Michael Sata, Lungu used a largely dis­torted form of so­cial­ist rhetoric that ap­pealed to the poor­est sec­tions of so­ci­ety, and nur­tured a close al­liance with the eth- nic in­ter­ests of the Bemba group.

Eth­nic di­men­sion Eth­nic­ity was an im­por­tant fac­tor in this elec­tion. Out­side the ur­ban ar­eas, the vote was split along eth­nic lines.the Bemba ar­eas (North­ern, Muchinga and Lua­pula prov­inces) voted en masse for the PF can­di­date, to­gether with peo­ple from East­ern prov­ince, where Lungu is from.

South­ern prov­ince, home to the Tonga group and Hichilema, voted for the op­po­si­tion can­di­date, joined by West­ern (pre­dom­i­nantly Lozi) and North-west­ern (Lunda and Kaonde) prov­inces.

Af­ter sev­eral years of state dom­i­nance by politi­cians from the north­ern and east­ern parts of the coun­try, peo­ple from Hichilema’s ru­ral bloc are res­o­lute to make their claims heard. If the state does not find ways to in­clude them, eth­nic strife could be on the rise.

On Au­gust 15, peo­ple ri­oted against the re­sults in South­ern prov­ince, with the po­lice mak­ing more than 130 ar­rests.

Groups in West­ern Prov­ince have been ad­vo­cat­ing se­ces­sion for some time now. In­creas­ing re­gional con­flict and mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion by global and re­gional su­per­pow­ers, to­gether with ris­ing com­pe­ti­tion over re­sources be­tween the West and BRICS, are ad­di­tional risk fac­tors for this min­eral rich coun­try.

The op­po­si­tion has its own weak­nesses to deal with. UPND has not moved away from an openly ne­olib­eral agenda. Their leader is a wealthy busi­ness­man who ben­e­fited from the whole­sale pri­vati­sa­tion of the 1990s. This gives am­mu­ni­tion to Lungu, who por­trays him­self as “a hum­ble man of the peo­ple”.

Another ma­jor mis­take has been engaging the rul­ing party on their same ter­rain: dur­ing the cam­paign, oc­ca­sional out­bursts of vi­o­lent re­tal­i­a­tion were jus­ti­fied as self-de­fence, and in­flam­ma­tory pro­pa­ganda was rife in PRO-UPND me­dia as well.upnd should avoid play­ing into PF’S provo­ca­tions. The op­po­si­tion needs all the sup­port it can muster to make their case. But a non-vi­o­lent ap­proach, one that does not ex­clude peace­ful mass protest, is es­sen­tial to avoid a de­scent into chaos.

llaterza is an an­thro­pol­o­gist and po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst fo­cus­ing on pol­i­tics, econ­omy and so­ci­ety in sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa.

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