ZAMBIA’S electoral body has for the first time in the history of the nation’s political dispensation issued a warning that it will be forced to suspend campaigns and disqualify political parties or candidates found breaching the Electoral Code of Conduct.
The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) was compelled to issue the warning because it is deeply concerned with rising levels of intolerance and political violence that have characterised the campaigns so far.
Though received with mixed feelings, the Electoral Act and the Electoral Code of Conduct both empower the commission to suspend campaigns to avoid further clashes which usually erupt during campaigns.
The same law empowers the commission to disqualify a political party or candidate in breach of the Electoral Code of Conduct.
The move by the ECZ is an indication that if not checked, the increasing cases of violence taking place countrywide might lead to political turmoil.
It is not in dispute that nine political parties are taking part in this year’s August 11 general elections.
Indication are that the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) and Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD), including the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), are linked to the said violence.
“The Commission is compelled to warn political parties and candidates participating in the 2016 general elections and the referendum to desist from acts of violence, failure to which it will suspend all political party campaigns and disqualify them from the elections,” ECZ spokesperson Cris Akufuna said.
A close look at these violent acts reveal that those engaged usually play the blame game, making it difficult for stakeholders to exactly tell who is perpetuating the violence which has compelled ECZ to issue the stern warning.
PF campaign chairperson Jean Kapata did not dispute the acts of violence taking place in the country.
Ms Kapata said the move by ECZ to threaten to suspend campaigns and disqualify candidates and political parties found wanting should be applied fairly.
Ms Kapata accused the opposition UPND of inciting violence, seeing that it was the last time their preferred presidential candidate was contesting and wanted to instil fear in the electorate especially in areas where they know they will not garner required votes.
“This is very serious. I have never seen such acts of violence before. I think the move should not just end at pronouncing it but must be implemented, of course, after thorough investigations. It must be fairly applied,” she said.
She said the pronouncement would lessen the violent acts which had deepened as cadres had been taking the law into their own hands knowing that it would end at going to court.
UPND Secretary General Stephen Katuka equally blamed the ruling party for the violence that has characterised the political scene.
He further blamed the police and the media for not bringing out the true reflection of what transpires each time his party officials are being attacked.
“If only ECZ can be fair in the application of disqualifying candidates or political parties involved, then that is welcome. But if it is aimed at silencing the opposition, society will rise and charge the Commission because that will be very unfair.
“Will it be fair to disqualify UPND, leaving PF? It is in black and white that only these two political parties have been clashing on several occasions with cadres being arrested. The move is fine. It will curb further violence. But it should not be seen as a tool to silence the opposition,” Mr Katuka said.
Opposition FDD leader Edith Nawakwi has since officially reported the recent case of violence in Namwala District where aspiring FDD candidate Charity Kabongomana was assaulted and the case was reported to ECZ in order to formalise the process.
The law is clear on who should be disqualified once found perpetuating violence.
It is now up to all political parties that are expected to participate in this year’s general elections to ensure that their candidates and supporters abide by the Electoral Code of Conduct to avoid being victims.
The ECZ should conduct thorough investigations between now and August 11, 2016 and ensure it walks the talk as this is the only way to keep the 14 million Zambians safe from violent activities.