Zambia’s 2021 polls and government’s crackdown on rival parties

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A lot of activities are going on in Zambia ahead of 2021 polls among the aspirants eyeing various political seats. The incumbent President Edgar Lungu will automatically seek his third term in the office after Zambia’s Constitutional court last year December ruled that he is eligible to vie again.

President Lungu came to power in 2015 following the demise of former President Michael Sata. He was the defence minister under Sata. He contested again in 2016 and was declared the winner in a pool many regarded as controversial. His closest challenger Hakainde Hichilema, flag bearer of the United Party for the National Development (UPND) contested Lungu’s victory, citing malpractices, vote-rigging and irregularities. Hichilema claimed elections officials colluded with the government to rig him out. Lungu got 50.35 per cent of casted votes against 47.67 per cent for Hichilema.

Violence erupted in the Southern African country as the opposition supporters took their protests against alleged rigged elections to the streets. As expected, the security officers responded excessively, with much force. Many alleged to have been involved in the planning of the protests were nabbed and charged. Mr Hachilema, the businessman filed a petition seeking the court to overturn President Lungu’s win. As usual in many African countries, his petition was thrown out and President Lungu’s victory was upheld.

Multi-party democracy which Zambia gained in 1991 after 27 years of the one-party system seems to be at risk since President Lungu took the leadership of the country. According to human rights organizations, violations of people’s freedom have been on the increase under Lungu. Amongst the human rights violation, is the deregistration of opposition political parties, which has caused panic among opposition leaders.

Recently, the government deregistered over 10 political parties on the ground of non-compliance to annual returns; a move many perceived as a strategy to destabilizes the opposition ahead of 2021 polls. A section of leaders has argued that the government is only trying to weed out the competition in the next polls..

The latest party to fall a victim of the government alleged rogue crackdown is the former information minister Chishimba Kambwili’s party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC). The Registrar of Societies Ms Thandiwe Mhende announced deregistration of NDC last month over what she described as lack of the party’s constitution.

“The NDC, therefore, ceased to exist on the 21st of August, 2019. All former members of the defunct NDC are advised to desist from conducting any political activities. Any person who disregards the above cancellation shall be dealt with in accordance with the law,” announced the ministry of home affairs.

Home affairs minister Stephen Kampyongo’s warning early this year is now a reality. Kampyongo, while addressing the Parliament in March, threatened to deregister all political parties and societies that are evading annual returns. He disclosed that the government will be forced to axe 12, 659 societies including 14 political parties. Among parties that have been decimated are Heritage party, Alliance for Better Zambia, People’s Redemption Party, National Alliance party, National Democratic Focus, Nationalist party, and New Labour party.

McDonald Chipenzi, Zambia’s electoral expert also implored the government to do away with parties that do not participate in elections but endorse aspirants of other parties. He said such parties should be converted to Non-Governmental Organizations since their main objective is to fight for good governance not to take part in the polls to form the government.

“The constitution states that a political party means an association whose objectives include the contesting of elections to form a government or influence the policy of the national or local government,” reiterated Chipenzi.

Zambia is home to several political parties led by the president’s outfit Patriotic Front which has the majority of lawmakers in parliament followed by Movement for Multi-Party Democracy, United Party for National Development plus many others.

There are other occurrences which signify that all is not well with democracy in Zambia. They include 90-day state of emergency in 2017 which the main agenda was alleged to silence the government’s critics, a suspension of 48 opposition MPs who boycotted the President’s speech in parliament and attack and closure of the local newspaper, The Post, which was known for pointing out President Lunga’s government ills, amongst others.

Other contentious incidences are detention of Hakainde Hichilema who was charged with treason after it was alleged that he tried to block a motorcade which was carrying the president. Police was also given more powers by the MPs allied to the government, to arrest and detain those whose intention is to cause chaos.

“Certain people, especially perceived as political opponents of the powers that be or the current establishment are being treated in a manner that is no different from the way Africans were treated in the colonial era,” decried Secretary-General of Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops Cleopas Lungu.

Given how the majority of incumbent leaders in Africa is treating their opponents or those who pose a political threat to them, is a clear indication that the continent political toxicity. Political allergy is not limited to Zambia; many other African countries are suffering from the same curable disease. Many African leaders deal ruthlessly with their political critics. Sadly, no government can perform better without criticism, which in reality, is a much-needed ingredient for good governance. Why can’t African leaders understand and accept this obvious political reality?

By Samuel Ouma |@journalist_27