Zam­bians go to the polls High peace­ful turnout test for rul­ing party

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

LUSAKA — Zam­bians have started vot­ing in pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions af­ter a cam­paign marred by vi­o­lence be­tween ri­val groups.

The Euro­pean Ob­server Mis­sion which fielded at least 120 mon­i­tors com­mended Zam­bians on the large and peace­ful turnout yes­ter­day.

There’s a lot at stake and the coun­try needs law and or­der for the econ­omy to sta­bilise. The cost of liv­ing has soared and thou­sands of peo­ple have been laid off in the min­ing in­dus­try.

This is also a his­toric vote be­cause for the first time it isn’t enough that a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date gets a sim­ple ma­jor­ity, they need to get more than 50 per­cent.

It’s also the first time that can­di­dates have had run­ning mates. This is re­ally to avoid ex­tra elec­tions be­cause in the past decade two pres­i­dents have died in of­fice and be­cause they didn’t have run­ning mates — elected vice pres­i­dents — they’ve had to hold ex­tra elec­tions. This is the fifth election Zam­bia has held in a decade. Chief Ob­server Ce­cile Kyenge told re­porters in Lusaka that at least half of the polling sta­tions across the South­ern African na­tion had opened on time at 0600 hours while the rest opened within less than an hour be­hind sched­ule.

“We are happy to see so many peo­ple com­ing to vote — it shows that Zam­bians un­der­stand the im­por­tance of elec­tions and they value their demo­cratic rights,” she said at Kalin­galinga Mid­dle School in eastern Lusaka.

Ta­nia Page, re­port­ing from a polling sta­tion in the cap­i­tal, Lusaka, said there were queues of hundreds of peo­ple wait­ing to cast their bal­lots from early yes­ter­day morn­ing.

“Zam­bians have heeded the call of cam­paign­ers to come out and vote in their num­bers,” she said. “But the op­po­si­tion has grave con­cerns that the build-up to the election and pos­si­bly the vote it­self will not be free and fair.”

First-time voter, Humphrey Mukungwa (22), a su­per­mar­ket shelf packer, told re­porters that he was happy to cast his vote but wor­ried about po­lit­i­cal ten­sions in his neigh­bour­hood, Mten­dere, a poor part of eastern Lusaka.

“I’ve never had the chance to vote be­fore and now the day has come and I feel like I have done some­thing im­por­tant,” he said.

“My only worry now is for our se­cu­rity af­ter the vot­ing. We need more po­lice man­power to stop the fight­ing be­tween the rul­ing party and the op­po­si­tion.”

Amos Chanda, spe­cial as­sis­tant and pres­i­den­tial spokesper­son said that po­lice had been de­ployed at strate­gic points across Zam­bia to min­imise the risk of post-vote ten­sions.

Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of the op­po­si­tion United Party for Na­tional Development (UPND) told Al Jazeera that the rul­ing Pa­tri­otic Front (PF) was try­ing to re­strict the ac­tiv­i­ties of its op­po­nents.

“We de­mand a free, fair, trans­par­ent and cred­i­ble election,” Hichilema said.

“Let the peo­ple of Zam­bia choose the lead­er­ship they want. We will do ev­ery­thing to main­tain peace. We want our vot­ers to turn out in large num­bers and not fear be­ing beaten by PF thugs out there.”

Zam­bia has seen a wave of pre-election vi­o­lence in re­cent weeks, with fight­ing erupt­ing be­tween op­po­si­tion and govern­ment sup­port­ers. Po­lice have also bro­ken up op­po­si­tion cam­paign­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the Zam­bian Elec­tions In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre (ZEIC), at least three peo­ple have been killed and many in­jured dur­ing cam­paign­ing.

“Es­ca­lat­ing lev­els of vi­o­lence may have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the elec­tions and re­duce voter turnout,” the ZEIC said in a pre-election re­port on Wed­nes­day.

About 6.7 mil­lion peo­ple are reg­is­tered to vote in the south­ern African coun­try, where Pres­i­dent Edgar Lungu’s left-lean­ing PF faces a tough chal­lenge from pro-busi­ness op­po­si­tion leader Hichilema and his UPND.

Lungu (59) be­came pres­i­dent af­ter nar­row­ly­win­ning a Jan­uary 2015 by-election af­ter the death of his pre­de­ces­sor Michael Sata.

The op­po­si­tion has accused the PF of not be­ing able to con­tain a cri­sis cre­ated by fall­ing prices of cop­per — the coun­try’s main rev­enue earner — and droughtin­duced elec­tric­ity short­ages, which trig­gered a steep fall of the kwacha cur­rency and spi­ralling in­fla­tion.

Both said they were con­fi­dent of out­right vic­tory, but ei­ther party could fail to gar­ner more than half of the vote as re­quired by elec­toral law, which would trig­ger a sec­ond round of vot­ing.

The op­po­si­tion has said Lungu can­not win the elec­tions with­out re­sort­ing to fraud. The pres­i­dent has threat­ened to mo­bilise the army if the op­po­si­tion re­jects the re­sults of the vote.

In the cap­i­tal’s Kalin­galinga neigh­bour­hood, vot­ers braved an early morn­ing chill and started queue­ing as early as 4:00AM. So­phie Muma, a 35-year old teacher, was one in a queue of hundreds who told re­porters she hoped her vote would count and that the out­come would be peace­ful.

“I’m hop­ing that my choice will mat­ter in this election and what­ever re­sult we get, it must be a peace­ful out­come in the end as this election is not only for Lusaka but the whole of Zam­bia,” she said. —

Otis Chi­wisha, 45, a garage man­ager, a voter at Vera Chiluba Se­condary School in Mten­dere, told re­porters that he had taken the morn­ing off work to vote.

“As a Zam­bian I am ex­cited and elated to line up and ex­er­cise my demo­cratic right to vote be­cause it is us the peo­ple who have the power in our hands to put some­one in State House. It is our choice,” he said.

Ra­dio re­ports from around the coun­try in­di­cated that polling sta­tions had opened on time and the elec­toral com­mis­sion urged vot­ers to re­main calm as they cast their bal­lots. Zam­bians will also vote in a con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum on the Bill of Rights which prom­ises to en­sure ci­ti­zens will have a right to hous­ing, and also out­laws abor­tion and ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. — Al Jazeera

Zam­bia has seen a wave of pre-election vi­o­lence in re­cent weeks Al Jazeera

Two Turk­ish mil­i­tary at­taches, both work­ing at the Turk­ish em­bassy in Greece, are miss­ing af­ter be­ing called back to Ankara as part of in­ves­ti­ga­tions into a failed mil­i­tary coup at­tempt, ac­cord­ing to For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu yes­ter­day. The Turk­ish em­bassy in Athens con­firmed that two of their mil­i­tary at­taches, Staff-colonel Il­han Ya­sitli and Colonel Halis Tunc, are miss­ing with their fam­i­lies, fol­low­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion about their al­leged links to Fethul­lah Gulen and his net­work. Turk­ish govern­ment ac­cuses the US-based cleric and busi­ness­man of mas­ter­mind­ing last month’s failed coup at­tempt. Al Jazeera

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