Some Zambian opposition parties and other electoral stakeholders have expressed concern over President, Edgar Lungu’s alleged flouting of the COVID 19-induced ban on election campaigns, using his visits to developmental projects and other work, as an excuse, ahead of the country’s general election, scheduled for 12 August, this year.
Lungu announced in May, a ban on all campaign rallies, as part of the country’s measures to curb the spread of COVID 19, following a rise in cases and deaths, brought about by the third wave of the pandemic.
Sharing campaign messages while working
The President has in recent weeks, been visiting trading areas in different townships, in order to make sure traders are complying with the COVID 19 safety rules, which include masking up, social distancing, sanitizing and hand-washing among others, as well as inspecting developmental projects.
During these visits, he has been distributing masks, while at the same time, issuing image-building statements, thereby attracting huge crowds.
Having an unfair advantage
As such, critics, who include representatives of opposition political parties, feel this contradicts his and the electoral commission’s rules to have no campaigns, adding that it gives Lungu an unfair advantage over his political opponents.
“All that is part of rigging an election, because you are creating an environment where it is unfair for the other parties, like going into a boxing ring and you tie the hands of your opponent and yours are free and you are busy throwing punches and saying you are the greatest!
This is what is happening! So, rigging is not just a question of on the actual day. It is a process,” says Thabo Kawana, the media director for the main opposition, United Party for National Development (UPND), Alliance.
The country’s electoral body, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), says political parties are allowed to conduct door-to-door campaigns, with limited numbers of party members, but opposition political candidates, such as Harry Kalaba, the president of the Democratic Party (DP), claim even such are now becoming a problem, as they are being disrupted by police.
Recently, police interrupted Kalaba and his team, while they were conducting the campaigns in question, saying they had a large following, instead of sticking to the 50 people allowed, to which he responded by saying, he could not stop people from following him, as it was their will.
“What you are saying is not practical during elections. All [Everybody] wants to come and see me!” Kalaba argued.
Other opposition political party candidates say, ruling party cadres allegedly tend to physically attack them, with impunity, when they find them conducting such door- to-door activities.
Diplomats voice out
Members of the diplomatic corps, such as the United States of America’s Charge affairs and the British High Commissioner to Zambia, respectively. are of the view that even if Lungu has to work, being the incumbent, it is still a fact that he is campaigning during his visitations and it would as such only be fair to allow the opposition to go around and share their campaign messages too!
“The ruling party candidates need to be able to get out around the country, to go to events, but the opposition needs to have same opportunities.
I’ am not arguing that government should not be able to get out and do things, I’ am arguing that the opposition should have that same opportunity, ” says, David Young, the United States of America Charge d’ affairs to Zambia.
Fair elections need rules applied evenly, according to British High Commissioner to Zambia, Nicholas Whoolley.
“Rules that bind one candidate or one party, must bind them all, ” he says.
The opposition claims time’s up for PF
Despite this, Kawana is convinced the incumbent’s time is up and has a strong message for the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party:
“Even if you are trying to rig this election, it won’t work, because the people of Zambia, have already decided. They have decided that they’ve had enough of this corruption. They’ve had enough of this incompetence. They’ve had enough of this lawlessness!
Where people can even have cadres walking into their farms and demarcating plots and selling their land, despite them holding on to title and police can do nothing because these are PF cadres. Sorry, the people of Zambia have said no!” Kawana exclaims.