Tag Archives: Patriotic Front

Zambia slides towards authoritarianism as IMF props up government

The Conversation

There are fears that Zambia is slipping into authoritarian rule under President Edgar Lungu. UN Women/Flickr

The speaker of the Zambian National Assembly, Patrick Matibini, has suspended 48 opposition legislators for 30 days as a punishment for unauthorised absence from the parliament. Their offence? To have been missing for President Edgar Lungu’s state of the nation address in March.

The suspension of the MPs does not come as a great surprise. Hardliners from the ruling Patriotic Front have been pushing for something along these lines for some time. The ruling party was quick to try and disassociate itself from the Speaker’s actions. But, as Zambian commentators have pointed out, the action fits into a broader web of measures designed to intimidate those who question the president’s authority.

The most significant was the arrest of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, who remains in jail on trumped up treason charges.

While the latest development in Zambia’s growing political crisis doesn’t come as a shock, it will disappoint those who were hoping that Lungu would be persuaded to moderate his position. Instead, it appears that the International Monetary Fund’s decision to go ahead with a bail out package despite the government’s democratic failings has emboldened the president to pursue an authoritarian strategy.

As a result, a swift resolution to the current political standoff seems unlikely.

Roots of the crisis

For some time Zambia was considered to be one of the more competitive democracies in Africa. But a period of backsliding under Lungu has raised concerns that the country’s inclusive political culture is under threat. The current impasse stems from the controversial elections in 2016 when Lungu won a narrow victory that remains contested by the opposition United Party for National Development.

Hichilema, the leader of the United Party for National Development, has stated that his party will not recognise the legitimacy of Lungu’s victory until its electoral petition against the results is heard in court. The initial petition was rejected by the Constitutional Court. But its decision was made in a way that had all the hallmarks of a whitewash. The UPND subsequently appealed to the High Court. Hichilema’s decision to make his party’s recognition of the president conditional on the petition being heard was designed both as an act of defiance, and as a means to prevent the government from simply sweeping electoral complaints under the carpet.

Until the court case is resolved, the opposition is committed to publicly challenging the president’s mandate by doing things like boycotting his addresses to parliament. In response, members of the ruling party have accused the United Party for National Development of disrespect and failing to recognise the government’s authority. It is this that appears to lie behind Hichilema’s arrest on treason charges.

Punishing parliamentarians

The suspension of United Party for National Development legislators needs to be understood against this increasingly authoritarian backdrop. It is one of a number of steps taken by those aligned to the government that are clearly designed to intimidate people who don’t fall into line. Other strategies include public condemnation of the government’s critics and proposals to break-up the influential Law Society of Zambia.

Efforts by the president’s spokesman to disassociate the regime from the suspensions have been unpersuasive. The official line of the ruling party is that the speaker of parliament is an independent figure and that he made the decision on the basis of the official rules. It’s true that the speaker and the parliamentary committee on privileges, absences and support services have the right to reprimand legislators for being absent without permission.

Nonetheless the argument is disingenuous for two reasons. The speaker is known to be close to the ruling party, a fact that prompted Hichilema to call for his resignation earlier this year. And the committee’s decisions are clearly driven by the Patriotic Front because it has more members from it than any other party.

The claim that the suspension was not government-led lacks credibility. This is clear from the fact that Patriotic Front MPS have been the most vocal in calling for action to be taken against boycotting United Party for National Development MPs.

IMF lifeline for Lungu

There are different perspectives on the crisis in Zambia. Some people invoke the country’ history of more open government to argue that Lungu will moderate his position once the government feels that the opposition has been placed on the back foot. Others identify a worrying authoritarian trajectory that began under the presidency of the late Michael Sata. They conclude that things are likely to get worse before they get better.

One of the factors that opposition leaders hoped might persuade President Lungu to release Hichilema and move discussions back from the police cell to the negotiating chamber was the government’s desperate need for an economic bail out. Following a period of bad luck and bad governance, Zambia faces a debt crisis. Without the assistance of international partners, the government is likely to go bankrupt. This would increase public dissatisfaction with the Patriotic Front and undermine Lungu’s hopes of securing a third term.

But the willingness of the IMF to move towards the completion of a $1.2 billion rescue package suggests that authoritarian backsliding is no barrier to international economic assistance. In turn, IMF support appears to have emboldened the government to continue its efforts to intimidate its opponents.

IMF officials, of course, will point out that they are not supposed to take political conditions into account and that their aim is to create a stronger economy that will benefit all Zambians. This may be true, but the reality is that by saving the Lungu government financially the IMF is also aiding it politically. Whatever its motivation, the agreement will be interpreted by many on the ground as tacit support for the Patriotic Front regime, strengthening Lungu’s increasingly authoritarian position.

Zambia – court allows opposition leader to challenge treason prosecution

Reuters

By Chris Mfula | LUSAKA

LUSAKA A Zambian court on Friday allowed opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema to challenge the prosecution over moving his treason case to the high court for trial in a case that has stoked political tension months after contested elections.

Hichilema, an economist and businessman known as “HH”, was defeated by President Edgar Lungu in an election last August, which he described as fraudulent. His attempts to mount a legal challenge have so far been unsuccessful.

The United Party for National Development (UPND) leader was arrested in a police raid on his home in April and charged with trying to overthrow the government.

Hichilema’s lawyers however said the case should not proceed to the High Court because the officer who issued the trial papers had no authority to do so.

But Magistrate David Simusamba told a hearing in his court that Hichilema’s defence could seek a judicial review of the charges before the case goes to the High Court for trial.

Hichilema sat in court looking composed in a red shirt.

“I hold the view that this is a proper matter for judicial review,” Simusamba said, adding that the matter should go for trial if Hichilema’s lawyers fail to launch their legal challenge in the High Court within 14 days.

The magistrate adjourned the case to June 12.

Zambia was seen as one of Southern Africa’s most stable countries until relations soured between the government and opposition over the elections, which were marred by violence.

On Thursday, South African opposition leader Mmusi Maimane said Zambian immigration officials barred him from entering their country late on Thursday, stopping his visit to attend the case of the detained Hichilema.

Maimane held a rally on Friday in the South African capital Pretoria to demand that the case against Hichilema be dropped, saying the Zambian politician was facing trumped up charges.

Zambia’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Emmanuel Mwamba, said in a statement on Friday that Maimane was kept away to allow the due process of the law to take its course.

(Writing by by James Macharia)

Zambia – court upholds treason charges against Hichilema

Al Jazeera

Hichilema has been in custody since police raided his home on April 11 [Rogan Ward/Reuters]

A Zambian court refused a request to drop treason charges against Hakainde Hichilema, the main opposition leader, after he allegedly blocked the president’s motorcade earlier this month.

Wednesday’s ruling comes after Hichilema, the United Party for National Development (UPND) leader and a self-made businessman, was arrested in a police raid at his home earlier this month.

He is accused of endangering President Edgar Lungu’s life when Hichilema’s own convoy allegedly refused to give way to the presidential motorcade as both men travelled to a traditional event in Zambia’s western province.

Hichilema has been charged with trying to overthrow the government by unlawful means.

His lawyers had asked the court to throw out the treason charges, saying they were baseless.

But magistrate Greenwell Malumani said he did not have the power to dismiss the charges, which can only be handled by the High Court.

The case has stoked political tensions after the most recent contested elections.

Zambia was seen as one of southern Africa’s most stable countries until relations soured between the government and opposition in August, when President Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party narrowly beat the UPND in elections marred by violence.

The opposition says the vote was rigged, but Hichilema has so far failed to successfully challenge the legality of the result.

The Non-Governmental Organizations Coordinating Council (NGOCC), an umbrella body of Zambian action groups, has condemned the charges against Hichilema.

“Arresting opposition leaders on trumped-up charges is a recipe to heighten tension in an already volatile economic and political environment,” its chairwoman Sara Longwe

Zambia – opposition take early lead as vote count continues

Reuters

Patriotic Front (PF) Presidential candidate Edgar Lungu and his wife Esther Lungu leave a rally in Lusaka January 19, 2015.REUTERS/Rogan Ward/File

Zambia’s main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema took an early lead over President Edgar Lungu on Saturday in a tight election battle fought as the key copper producer’s economy stutters due to weak commodity prices.

The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) delayed announcing the first results on Friday, saying audits were taking longer than expected mainly due to a large voter turnout.

It denied charges by Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UPND) that it was dragging its feet because it was trying to manipulate the results in favour of Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF).

Data from eight of Zambia’s 156 constituencies showed businessman Hichilema in the lead with 47,706 votes after Thursday’s election, against 41,572 for lawyer Lungu.

Voter turnout currently stood at 57.55 percent, far above the 32 percent recorded early last year when Lungu narrowly won an election to fill the vacancy left by the death of then president Michael Sata.

If no candidate fails to win more than 50 percent this time, Zambia will have to hold a second round of elections.

Campaigning for this week’s vote centred on the economy, after months of rising unemployment, mine closures, power shortages and soaring food prices in Africa’s No. 2 copper producer.

Supporters of the two main parties clashed in what is generally one of the continent’s most stable democracies.

Hichilema says the president has mismanaged the economy but Lungu, whose government has been negotiating a financial support package with the International Monetary Fund, blames weak growth on plunging commodity prices.

The electoral commission said final results from the elections, in which Zambians also chose members of parliament, mayors, local councillors, and whether or not to accept proposed changes to the constitution, would not be in by late Saturday or early Sunday as initially anticipated.

(Reporting by Stella Mapenzauswa; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

Zambia’s troubled elections – democracy in doubt

The Conversation

A Zambian opposition protester is arrested during a past election: Instances of serious violence have increased dramatically this time around.Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

When Rupiah Banda conceded defeat to Michael Sata in Zambia’s 2011 elections, many commentators hailed the peaceful transfer of power as a sign that the country’s democracy had matured. Twenty years after ousting the United National Independence Party (UNIP) in the historic 1991 multi-party elections, the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) lost to Sata’s urban-based and populist Patriotic Front (PF).

Five years later, the country is preparing to go to the polls again on August 11 to vote on a president, parliamentarians, mayors and a referendum on the Bill of Rights. This time, the entire party system is in flux and electoral violence has been worryingly frequent and extreme. As a consequence, Zambia’s democratic credentials are increasingly in doubt.

The 2016 elections therefore represent a critical point in Zambia’s political history. They could herald a complete rupture of the existing party system and a worrying slide towards a competitive authoritarian regime. But they could also simply reflect a minor detour on the country’s road towards democratic consolidation.

The latter scenario has not been uncommon in Zambia’s history. After the end of Kenneth Kaunda’s almost 30-year presidency (1964-1991), the initial euphoria surrounding the MMD’s victory was squandered by President Frederick Chiluba. The mid-1990s were characterised by increased repression of the opposition and political rights, culminating in 2001 with Chiluba’s failed attempt to change the constitution to run for a third term in office. Although his MMD successor, Levy Mwanawasa, ultimately won the 2001 elections, albeit by very low margins, that period represented a critical juncture in the country’s party system. Defections of disillusioned MMD politicians resulted in the creation of key political parties, including the United Party for National Development (UPND) and the PF.

Today, much is at stake for Zambian citizens who have seen four elections in less than ten years due to two presidential deaths in 2008 and 2014. Whoever wins, most Zambians will be just looking forward to a president who can serve out the five year term and proceed with the business of governing and delivering services rather than divisive campaigning.

Unexpected trajectory

Zambia’s current unexpected trajectory can be traced to the death of Sata in October 2014. This led the PF to descend into a tumultuous succession battle between two factions. One, labelled the “the Cartel,” included long-time PF stalwarts who helped build the party. They included Sata’s vice president Guy Scott, the former party general secretary Wynter Kabimba, the former party spokesperson George Challah and the editor-in-chief of The Post newspaper, Fred M’membe.

In the second group were those who became increasingly close to Sata during his period of illness. They included the former Defence minister Edgar Lungu and Finance minister Alexander Chikwanda. Ultimately, Lungu was selected by the party to contest the January 2015 elections and is again the PF’s candidate this year.

Lungu’s most significant opposition opponent is Hakainde Hichilema. The leader of the UPND is poised to contest the elections for the fifth time. Seven additional parties were registered in time to field presidential candidates. Amazingly, this is the first time in more than 20 years that the MMD will not be competing for president. This is due to squabbles between two politicians, Nevers Mumba and Felix Mutati, over who legitimately leads the party.

The PF will be hoping to win over voters by emphasising its large-scale road construction and rehabilitation projects. The party can as well point to the fact that it oversaw the passing of a much demanded new constitution earlier this year. The latter is an achievement that long eluded the MMD.

At the same time, it will be hoping to sidestep scrutiny of its management of the economy. This has been marked by persistent power shortages and worryingly high debt levels. While Zambia’s elections are usually held in September or October, they were moved earlier this year ahead of an anticipated deal with the International Monetary Fund. Any ensuing austerity would be felt after the elections.

Unequal playing field

However, the ruling party is not leaving anything to chance and has brazenly created an unequal playing field for its opponents. The only genuine opposition newspaper, The Post, was shut down in June. The newspaper had been instrumental in Sata’s rise but became increasingly anti-PF when the party entered office. Its closure was ostensibly over unpaid taxes but many have pointed out that pro-government newspapers were also in arrears but continued to operate.

Despite more competitive bids from South African companies, the Electoral Commission for Zambia (ECZ) chose a Dubai-based firm to print the election ballots. This has led to speculation over potential vote rigging. Moreover, attempts by the UPND to campaign have been repeatedly blocked, both through the courts and with the use of PF cadres.

Indeed, electoral violence has been worryingly high this year compared with past elections. Based on media reports recorded by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) project, there have been more than 50 incidents of electoral violence in Zambia between January and July 2016. Many resulted in severe injuries or the death of party supporters. The violence became so extreme that the electoral commission suspended campaigning in Lusaka for 10 days and President Lungu called for a national day of prayer on July 25 for peaceful elections.

Why the violence has spiked

Why have these elections been particularly violent? One reason is the significant new constitutional requirement for the winning presidential contender to win by an absolute, not just a simple, majority. In 2015, Lungu beat Hichilema with less than two percent of the vote – 48% against 46.6%. Since then, mine closures in the populous and traditional PF-stronghold of the Copperbelt have undermined confidence in the ruling party and may generate enough swing voters to give Hichilema the majority that he needs.

Secondly, Sata’s leadership style contributed to a high level of PF infighting and suspicion, with many defections as result. Sata’s populism resonated with the poor and underprivileged and contributed to his victory in 2011. But like populist leaders elsewhere, he built the party around his personal image and marginalised anyone seen to disagree with him or prove a potential successor.

He also manipulated the rules for the PF’s gain. Notable examples included the enticement of opposition MPs, especially those from the crumbling MMD, to defect to the PF to help secure the party a parliamentary majority. He also used the Public Order Act to prevent the opposition from holding rallies or meetings.

In the year since Lungu’s election, a number of prominent PF politicians have joined the UPND. These include Guy Scott, Sata’s son and wife, and another former PF minister, Geoffrey Mwamba, who is now Hichilema’s running mate. This makes the UPND not just a formidable opposition competitor but also the refuge for those who posed a threat to Lungu’s faction within the PF and who fuelled Sata’s paranoia about potential successors.

If history is anything to go by, the current political tumult will subside after the elections and result in a new configuration of political parties. And if some key provisions,%202016-Act%20No.%202_0.pdf) in the new constitution are indeed upheld, including preventing sitting MPs from switching party affiliations without losing their seats, then Zambia’s repeated pattern of democratic backsliding and party fissures may hopefully become less pronounced over time.

Zambia – election commission threat to end campaigning over violence

Reuters

Zambia’s electoral commission has threatened to bar campaigning ahead of elections on Aug. 11 due to growing cases of violence, after clashes between supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front party and the main opposition Patriotic Front .

The Electoral Process Act of 2016 empowered the Electoral Commission of Zambia to suspend campaigns if it considered it necessary for a credible election, the EZC said in a statement on Friday.

“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,” it said.

President Edgard Lungu has been in power for just over a year after winning a ballot triggered by the death of his predecessor, Michael Sata, in October 2014. Lungu faces a strong challenge from UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema.

“All political parties are expected to ensure that their candidates…and supporters abide by the code,” the ECZ said.

The same law empowered the commission to disqualify a political party or candidate in breach of the Electoral Code of Conduct, it said.

(Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Hugh Lawson)