Tag Archives: United Party for National Development

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.

Zambian opposition leader to face trial; moved to high security prison


File: United Party for National Development leader Hakainde Hichilema has been in detention for two months. Photo: REUTERS/Rogan Ward/File Photo

LUSAKA – Zambia’s opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema will face a High Court trial for treason and remain in police custody, a magistrate ruled on Thursday.

Hichilema was arrested in April for allegedly failing to give way to President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade and has so far been held in detention for nearly two months.

In a show of support, Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane tried to visit Hichilema in Zambia last month but was barred from entering the country.

The leader of the United Party for National Development is accused of endangering Lungu’s life and treason charges followed.

“I am in court because of hatred. This has everything to do with hatred,” Hichilema told journalists inside the courtroom.

READ: Lungu vs Hichilema: Zambia’s presidential battle

His lawyers asked the court to throw out the treason charge, arguing it was baseless, but the magistrate referred the case to the High Court with the date for the hearing yet to be announced.

Treason suspects are not eligible for bail in Zambia and, if found guilty, Hichilema could face a possible death sentence.

Hichilema said he hoped the trial would start soon and criticised the police, accusing them of failing to properly investigate the case.

“We need a dedicated judge to deal with our matter expeditiously,” he said.

Zambia is considered one of the most stable countries in Africa and Hichilema’s arrest and detention has been widely criticised by human rights groups.

Hichilema made a fifth unsuccessful bid for the presidency last year. He refused to recognise Lungu as president and has challenged the narrow poll defeat in court.




LUSAKA Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, who is facing treason charges for impeding a presidential motorcade, has been moved from a prison in Lusaka to a maximum security facility outside the capital, a prison source said on Friday.

Hichilema and five others who were moved with him are accused of trying to overthrow the government after a column of opposition vehicles failed to make way for President Edgar Lungu.

The case has stoked political tensions in what is regarded as one of Africa’s more stable and functional democracies following a bruising election last year.

“They arrived at Mukobeko this morning,” a source told Reuters, referring to a maximum security prison in Kabwe, about 150 km (90 miles) north of Lusaka.

Hichilema lawyer Jack Mwiimbu confirmed Hichilema had been moved but said he did not know where to.

“We are not privy to where they have been taken. They were taken to the City Airport and flown to an unknown destination,” he told Reuters.

The move went against a court order specifying Hichilema should be confined to Lusaka Central prison, he added.

Home Affairs minister Stephen Kampyongo could not be reached for comment.

Hichilema, leader of the United Party for National Development, was arrested in April when police raided his home and charged him with trying to overthrow the government.

An economist and businessman widely known by his “HH” initials, Hichilema was defeated in August by Lungu in an election he denounced as fraudulent. His attempts to mount a legal challenge have been unsuccessful.

(Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Ed Stoddard and Ed Cropley)


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

Zambian opposition to challenge Lungu victory in court


Zambia’s main opposition party will file a court petition against President Edgar Lungu’s re-election on Thursday, its vice president said on Wednesday.

“We have been robbed of this election, that is a fact and it shall be proved after 14 days,” United Party for National Development vice president Geoffrey Mwamba told a news conference in the southern African nation’s capital.

(Reporting by Stella Mapenzauswa; Editing by James Macharia)

Zambia – opposition take early lead as vote count continues


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)

Zambian opposition leader arrested for inciting violence


A leader of the main opposition party in Zambia was arrested on Friday on suspicion of proposing violence against President Edgar Lungu, police said, the latest sign of tension ahead of August elections.

Geoffrey Mwamba, vice-president of the United Party for National Development, was arrested for a verbal attack on Lungu this week in which he said he would “go for his throat”, police spokeswoman Charity Chanda said.

Police on Wednesday arrested and released Mwamba in another case in which he was accused of training party supporters to become an illegal militia.

“We have arrested Mr Mwamba for proposing violence. This is in connection with a statement he made proposing to cause death to the Republican President,” Chanda said.

The offence carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison, a lawyer said.

Last week, Lungu accused political opponents of training a militia to carry out violence during the elections. They denied the accusation.

Police last week said they had arrested 21 United Party for National Development supporters found training in a gym on Mwamba’s business premises, some with weapons such as machetes and with live ammunition.

Zambia is due to hold presidential, parliamentary and local government elections on Aug. 11. Lungu and United Party for National Development leader Hakainde Hichilema are seen as front runners in the presidential race.

(Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Janet Lawrence)