Political campaigning in Zambia’s capital Lusaka has been suspended for 10 days because of violent clashes ahead of next month’s national elections, the electoral commission announced at the weekend. The ban comes less than three weeks after Zambia’s biggest independent newspaper, The Post, was shut down by the authorities over a tax dispute – a move seen as an attempt to silence it before the August 11 vote. The run-up to the election has been marred by skirmishes between supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) of President Edgar Lungu and the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) led by Hakainde Hichilema.
On Friday, police opened fire on UPND supporters, killing one, after the party refused to cancel a campaign meeting in Lusaka’s Chawama area. “The electoral commission of Zambia has observed with dismay the rise in political violence in some districts which has regrettably resulted in injury, loss of life and property,” commission spokesperson Cris Akufuna said in a statement released yesterday afternoon. No public rallies, meetings, processions or door-to-door campaigning would be allowed, Akufuna said.
Hichilema advisor Douglas Syakalima told AFP the decision to suspend campaigning had been made “in bad faith” and was taken to avoid embarrassment for Lungu, as his meetings were poorly attended. “The reason why he has suspended the campaigns is because he is scared that Lungu, the one you call a president, can’t have crowds in Lusaka,” Syakalima said. Human rights activist Brebner Changala said police should use the break in campaigning to reconsider how they have been treating the opposition. “The police have been biased in that they give the PF time to campaign, but the UPND has to struggle to get a permit,” he said. “And if they get that permit the PF will go there and fight them and in the end the police also join in harassing the opposition,” Changala told AFP. He described the levels of violence that the country has experienced ahead of the polls as “ugly and unprecedented”.
Police inspector general Kakoma Kanganja said he regretted the killing of a party supporter and pledged an inquiry into the shooting.