The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has appealed to all stakeholders participating in today’s Lusaka Mayoral by-election, among other polls, to abstain from violence.
And ECZ public relations officer Margaret Chimanse has charged that the media has sensationalised political violence instead of playing its part in ending the vice.
Ahead of the Lusaka Mayoral by-election and local government elections around the country, sporadic, intermittent cases of political violence or unrests during the just-ended campaigns have continued to plague the Zambian democratic landscape.
The most recent flare-up was between National Democratic Congress (NDC) leader Chishimba Kambwili, among other party officials, who were stopped by the Zambia Police Service from campaigning in newly-created Chifunabuli District in Luapula Province on Monday.
Police disrupted proceedings of all three public meetings that were to be addressed by the Roan PF member of parliament on account of President Edgar Lungu, who was expected in the area the on Tuesday to campaign ahead of today’s polls.
This was despite the ECZ having told the police that the meetings were sanctioned by the electoral body.
Reacting to the latest development, Chimanse hoped that polling day would be violent-free in view of the measures put in place by her office in conjunction with the police.
“There have been many steps taken and we sat down with all political parties. People have prayed, and they have committed, and the police have said anybody who oversteps and perpetuates violence will be taken to task. Our wish and appeal to the people is that this campaign period has been largely free of violence, even on poll day. That is our hope. And even the Church, if you heard the programme on ZNBC national watch, the Church Mother Bodies, the independent churches, and other churches have been praying for that day and even the police spokesperson was there. Generally, everything is going fine,” Chimanse told News Diggers! in an interview.
She stressed that curbing political violence was not solely the responsibility of ECZ.
“This issue about violence is not just for the Commission; the Commission can only work with political parties and stakeholders and all the people’s mind-set should be that of peace. Why should you attack one another? It should be a contest of ideas and issues,” Chimanse added.
And Chimanse said that the media can play a huge part in addressing political violence and that the vice should not be sensationalised.
“Listen, all the efforts that we have put in place, you cannot force people. We can appeal to people (to stop violence) and that’s what we have done. You have seen the pact between the PF and the UPND, there has been no clashes. People are campaigning, they are even criss-crossing each other. There has been no violence that has been recorded. We are appealing to the people to go and vote. This is a free country where people should go and vote in a violent-free environment,” she said.
“You sensationalise these issues. I think what the media should do is not to sensationalise these issues. I think you have the duty also to call upon the people to do their part (to stop violence). The media also has their part in the conduct, in terms of the code of conduct. You also need to play your part, not fan the fire. There has been no violence and there will be no violence on that day unless you are pushing that there should be violence.”
She added that the Commission did not receive any reports of violence during the campaign period prior to today’s mayoral by-election.
Reacting to recent clashes between political parties’ campaign schedules where one party would find itself in the same area where another was campaigning, Chimanse explained that clashes occurred prior to agreeing on the timetables.
“That was before we sat down with the political parties to do our schedule, then we shared space and ensured that there was dialogue. In an instance where they wanted to extend to an area, as long as they worked through the police and agreed, there shouldn’t be any conflicts. And I think the campaigns have worked very well so far and that is because of the initiative of the Commission to work with all political stakeholders together with the police to share the space and work in a non-violent space where we can [be] free [to] canvas for votes. So, we haven’t got any official complaint from any political party, we would want to believe that everything is going on fine. Since the last time we sat together, we impressed on everyone to be tolerant and to have a schedule with the police and that schedule was not cut in stone, but that they could work with the police to ensure that they reach the voters as far as possible as long as they had no clashes,” she explained.
She further indicated that the fracas involving the NDC and police in Chifunabuli District was down to a misunderstanding in their campaign programme.
“With the NDC, the schedule which they were supposed to follow, they finished the time when they were supposed to campaign, and they were looking for further time to be with the people. But I think there was a misunderstanding between themselves and the police so they didn’t get the permission that they were supposed to have. So, the issue was yesterday (Monday), there was a misunderstanding and over lining the programme between the police and the NDC. And I think they had sat down, it should have been mutually resolved. So, I think we are appealing to the people to maintain this calm and continue so that we continue as Zambia to vote peacefully and wait patiently for the result. May the best person with whom the Zambian people want to put as Mayor of Lusaka and all other places win,” said Chimanse.