As long as Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo remains PF National Youth Chairperson, political violence will keep worsening because the Inspector General of Police cannot summon his boss when PF cadres misbehave, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) say.

And the CSOs have accused President Edgar Lungu of blackmailing the electorate by promising that the K65 per 50Kg bag maize purchase price will be adjusted upward.

Speaking at a joint press briefing in Lusaka, Monday, a consortium of CSOs comprising of Caritas Zambia, NGOCC, Transparency International Zambia (TIZ), Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD), Alliance for Community Action (ACA), ActionAid Zambia, and Civil Society Constitutional Agenda (CiSCA), expressed concern over the levels of violence ahead of the by-elections.

“The institutional setup currently makes even the police more moribund and even more incompetent because you have the national youth chairperson of the ruling party, being the Home Affairs Minister, under which the police service is. And you know that the violence is perpetuated by the young people, the youths that are sent by political parties, and the national youth chairperson of the ruling party is in charge of the Ministry of Home Affairs, in charge of the police. How can the IG (Inspector General of police) call or summon the Minister of Home Affairs to say, ‘your youths are misbehaving because that protocol is wrong. So, that is one aspect that we have seen in the current electoral process; that the setup is making this violence even more and more. Until and when we can have a sober person that is away from the youth wing of the political parties to run the Ministry of Home Affairs and take control of the Police Service, perhaps we may see change in the way violence is being curtailed,” CiSCA publicity chairperson MacDonald Chipenzi said in response to questions from journalists in Lusaka yesterday.

And in a joint statement read by ACA executive director Laura Miti, the CSOs said the increasing levels of violent incidences had led to reduced numbers of women participating in politics.

“The levels of violence, most of which is carried out openly, with perpetrators not seeming to fear any consequences, and certainly not being arrested, does not help the electorate choose leaders of their own choice. They are either forced to follow the most violent person for fear of retribution or they simply stay away from voting. The increased incidences of violence have been the reason why women’s participation in politics has also remained unacceptably low at all levels. Is it normal that more than 50 per cent of the country’s population are excluded from participating in the governance of their country? Is it acceptable that 53 years after independence, Zambia has only 18 per cent women represented in Parliament and 9 per cent at local government level? Violence without doubt has also been the reason for the voter apathy the country has been witnessing,” they said.

The CSOs also expressed concern over political parties allegedly buying voters.

“We are also concerned with levels of vote-buying by some political players that we have witnessed during this campaign. Distribution of chickens, sugar, shirts, money and various goods have reached unprecedented levels! What is worrying is that people who go round distributing these goods also record the recipient’s National Registration and Voter’s Card numbers in order to force them to vote for their candidate. This is electoral malpractice and is not permitted by the Electoral Code of Conduct. As civil society, we are concerned that the public are increasingly losing confidence and trust in the ECZ’s capacity to oversee and deliver a credible election. The ECZ is increasingly seen as a partial arbiter in the electoral process. We would like to remind the ECZ that elections must not only be verbally-pronounced as ‘free and fair,’ but must be seen to be credible and conducted in a free environment. It is ECZ’s duty, therefore, to address the underlying reasons for this failing public trust. Secondly, we call upon the ECZ to investigate the allegations of vote-buying and use the law to show that voter manipulation is unacceptable,” the CSOs demanded.

They further called for Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja to duly resign if he had failed to give oversight to the service.

“We now direct our attention to the Inspector General of Police, Mr Kakoma Kanganja, and the Zambia Police Service. It is our collective view that the police service has abdicated its duty to maintain peace in Zambia. Of particular concern is the fact that, the police service has, in the last few years, allowed political violence to become a norm. We are aware that the police do have the ability to prevent violence when they choose. It, therefore, seems to us that the political violence that has characterised our campaigns and elections is a case of the police being unwilling to carry out their duties professionally. The police, under the current Inspector-General, seems to submit themselves to the lawless wishes of political cadres. It would seem that the police are afraid of the cadres to the extent that they almost salute them! This situation must come to an end because if citizens cannot trust the police to ensure safe and peaceful campaigns, and especially voting, our democracy becomes academic and worthless,” they observed.

They implored residents of Lusaka and those from areas where there would be by-elections to turn out in numbers and cast their votes.

“We implore the people of Lusaka and all areas in which by-elections will be held on Thursday this week, to turn out in numbers and cast their votes. We ask citizens to understand that, if we give up on our rights, we give up on our democracy. It is the duty of every citizen to first elect those who should superintend over our country, and then to hold them to account for the way they govern. Holding power holders to account begins with the vote. Our call to citizens is to remember that staying away from polling booth does not hurt the politicians; it hurts every citizen coming together to express themselves through the vote by selecting the best among the leaders and reject those that wish to abuse their trust,” the CSOs pleaded.

And Chipenzi added that President Lungu was blackmailing voters by promising to increase the K65 maize purchase price.

“There is a lot of evidence to show that there is vote-buying ahead of these by-elections, perhaps even in the previous elections. Vote-buying in not necessarily the giving of money to a voter; vote-buying is the spraying of voters’ preference to the other side. The examples of vote-buying in this election, just yesterday, the President [Edgar Lungu] was quoted as having told a rally that the K65 maize price will be revised upwards, [he was speaking] at a campaign rally. What do you expect the farmers will do from that pronouncement? Definitely, they will think he has the solution to our problems of prices in maize. Already, he has blackmailed the electorate. We also have evidence here where one of the mayoral candidates was signing contracts even before he gets into office. That is pure vote buying and vote blackmail! And these are malpractices, which the Electoral Code of Conduct is very clear that there should not be practiced by any participating candidate or political party,” said Chipenzi.