Zambia Police stickers and billboard sensitising people not to resolve to violence motivated by politic sentiments. Courtesy of Jean Mandela
Zambia Police stickers and billboard sensitising people not to resolve to violence motivated by politic sentiments. Courtesy of Jean Mandela

PRETORIA – The chances of political violence around Thursday’s elections in Zambia are “very high”, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) senior researcher Dimpho Motsamai said on Wednesday in Pretoria.

The Southern African region specialist said this was because the stakes were also very high in this “do or die” election and the two leading presidential candidates, President Edgar Lungu, the incumbent, and his main challenger, Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND), were running neck and neck.

There had already been more than 50 incidents of political violence during the first half of this year, Motsamai said in an online ISS seminar.

One of the aggravating factors was that the police were seen to be handling political protests and violence in a partisan way.

And the government has been accused of abusing the Public Order act by refusing permission for peaceful opposition demonstrations and rallies. This could spark violence.

Motsamai noted that Lungu had beaten his old rival Hichilema by less than two percent in their last contest, the presidential by-election in January 2015, following the death in office of President Michael Sata.

Since then the UPND had been strengthened by the defection of several top leaders of Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) to its rival party, after their faction lost the internal fight to select the PF’s candidate in the 2015 elections.

This year for the first time, a presidential candidate would have to win an absolute majority of the vote, which was unlikely because there were nine candidates and because of the closeness of the race between Lungu and Hichilema.

So a rerun, which had to be held within 37 days, was likely. She predicted that if there was a rerun, Lungu would probably win by attracting the most backing of smaller parties and candidates.

Motsamai said another possible flashpoint could be if anyone disputed the results. She noted that Lungu had recently appointed both the head of the electoral commission and the president of the Constitutional Court. Both were from Lungu’s eastern provincial region and so were considered partisan.

Both occupied crucial positions in the elections and the Constitutional Court was the final arbiter of electoral disputes.
Lungu had also recently appointed family member Mungeni Mulenga as deputy president of the Constitutional Court. She had previously ruled in his favour in the internal succession fight in the PF.

Motsamai said if there were long delays in announcing the election results, as in the past, this could also raise tensions.

Another potential flashpoint could result from Zambians also voting on Thursday in a referendum on proposed changes to the constitution, to include new civil and political rights.

The problem was that only the 6.7 million people on the voters’ roll could vote in the presidential, parliamentary and other elections for political office, whereas 7.5 million were eligible to vote in the referendum.

This could create an opportunity for manipulation of the results, the opposition had complained.

She noted that the UPND was already warning that the election would be rigged, adding to the tension.

The elections were also taking place against the backdrop of the worst economic crisis in 10 years, mainly caused by the low international copper price, Zambia’s chief foreign income earner.

The cost of living was high, many people could not afford basic services and a “staggering” 60 percent of Zambians were living below the poverty line.

Nevertheless there had been very little debate about alternative economic policies in the campaign. Lungu is considered a populist who has spent a lot on infrastructure and services – significantly increasing the national debt.

He has now been forced to promise austerity measures in order to secure an IMF loan but Motsamai said he had not yet really delivered on these promises.

Hichilema, a successful businessman, has promised to cut public spending, including the civil service wage bill, if elected.

But Motsamai said, as usual, the election would be decided much more on personalities and ethnic/tribal affiliations than economic policies.

She noted that the PF had chosen last year to elect Lungu, an easterner, as its candidate, partly to broaden its appeal beyond its traditional power base among the northern Bemba people. But she said the PF was still very much a Bemba party.

Hichilema is a Tonga from the south and that is still where the UPND draws most of its support from.

Zambia Police stickers and billboard sensitising people not to resolve to violence motivated by politic sentiments. Courtesy of Jean Mandela
Zambia Police stickers and billboard sensitising people not to resolve to violence motivated by politic sentiments. Courtesy of Jean Mandela
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11 COMMENTS

  1. No!

    We are Zambians and will remain Zambians, regardless of who are elected to form the next Zambian government, new or not.

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  2. NO!

    to this political violence being spread by Lungu!

    We want a peaceful Zambia where campaigns are being decided on ISSUES, not PANGAS!

    Back to Chamwana for you. Try again when you have a REAL VISION!

    For now kyabebele!

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  3. Motsamai – you are talking about Zambia – not Kwazulu Natal where people shoot each other just to support the ruling party. Now that the campaign fever has ended, The elections will go off very peacefully, and the Zambians will be shaking hands and congratulating each other over a glass of cold beer when it is all over.Zambians are the only country in the Diaspora who have successfully removed Presidents of ruling parties and their governments peacefully. Please, don’t peddle information that will foment violence.

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    • “… in a cycle as old as tribalism, ignorance of the Other engenders fear; fear engenders hatred; hatred engenders violence; violence engenders further violence until the only “rights”, the only law, are whatever is willed by the most powerful.”
      – David Mitchell

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  4. We are Zambians there a number of things we need to about the people outside Zambia who have come to witness the elections or are observing from afar and doing analysis.
    1. Some want to learn how to be peaceful and these people are not one sided
    2. Some want to see violonce that has happened in their countries to happen here and and these people are siding with the opposition by pointing only mistakes of the ruling party
    3. Some have agendas these are siding with people who are most likely to implement their agenda.
    4. There those who have come or are some where very doing the right work on the Zambian elections
    SO ZAMBIAN WATCH AND PRAY
    SO ZAMBIAN

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  5. By the way people ignore Upnd propaganda that the polling for pf is tomorrow. August 11 Thursday is the only day for voting in all places and for all contestants. Spread the news

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