US Embassy in Zambia interim Chargé d’Affaires David Young says President Edgar Lungu’s threats that UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema will be arrested once he is re-elected are not helpful during campaigns.

And Young has urged Zambians to be sceptical about opinion polls predicting election winners as they do not guarantee how the votes will be cast.

Meanwhile, Young says the United States will not hesitate to apply visa restrictions, travel bans and financial sanctions when fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms are violated.

Speaking during a media briefing, Monday, Young said it was important for leaders to debate issues and to refrain from talking about arresting people during campaigns.

“With regards to calls for HH to be arrested, I don’t think it is helpful during the campaign. I think it is important for people to decide, the people listen to all the candidates or the 16 candidates and they decide who they want to cast their vote for. That’s the franchise, the vote, the right of democratic citizens in a democracy. So, I think it is important that they debate beyond the issues [and] we don’t talk about arresting people during a campaign season,” Young said.

“As I have said before, during a campaign season, it is very important that there is balance. That all candidates be able to campaign equally and not to be affected by the public order act or COVID-regulations in a biased way. Having equal treatment to campaigns is critically important. We have three days left before the elections, it is important that during the campaign season there is balance, fair treatment to all sides. That is the principle of democracy in campaigns.”

Young said he was not worried about personal attacks on him, adding that the foreign observer missions were neutral and not partisan.

“With regards to personal attacks on me, I don’t worry about that. Part of the job of a diplomat is to talk to everybody and I talk to everybody. I talk to senior leaders in government, senior leaders in the opposition, I talk to all the major candidates. It is part of my job as a diplomat. Sometimes people want us to take sides, they think that if we don’t take their side that means we take the other side. That is not true!” he said.

“Neutrality is staying in the middle. You don’t take this side, you don’t take that side. We are not taking sides in the election and some people want us to take sides. I will not do that! Also, with regards to the foreign observer mission, they are not interfering in Zambia’s election. They are neutral, they are not taking sides. Some people want us to take sides but we will not take sides.”

And Young urged Zambians to be sceptical about the opinion polls that were predicting election winners as they did not guarantee how the votes would be cast on the polling day.

“We support a free, fair, transparent and peaceful process. The national elections that will occur on Thursday provide an opportunity for Zambians to have their say in how their country is run. Political parties and candidates are presenting their visions for Zambia and at the end of the day, you my Zambian friends will decide on which vision wins. This is a competitive election and as we have seen in the United States, results can defy polling,” Young said.

“We have seen media reports claiming that one side or the other will win, but such polling does not guarantee how voters will freely vote on election day. So be sceptical about the polls you have seen. Voting depends on voters who have to travel to the polls, wait in line and cast their ballots. Election depends on turnout and dedication as well as officials who are dedicated to democracy and upholding the democratic process and the will of the people.”

Meanwhile, Young said the USA would not hesitate to apply visa restrictions, travel bans and financial sanctions if fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms were violated.

“Now, when fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms are violated, [the] United States can and does, according to our law, apply visa restriction, travel bans and financial sanctions. We have used these measures, visa restrictions, travel bans and financial sanctions after fundamentally fraudulent elections. Recently in Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania and other countries including Nicaragua in Central America. We apply these measures because we are serious about our commitment to human rights and democratic principles. We will hold accountable any individuals who promote violence, who undermine the electoral processes, who engage in fraudulent or corrupt behaviour or otherwise violate democratic rights and the foundations of free elections,” he said.

“Now, US Visa restrictions, lifelong travel bans, financial sanctions can be applied to officials in government and quasi-government bodies, security and police forces, political party members whether from ruling party or opposition, party cadres or leaders of such groups or front groups, election managers and any other figures who participate in or instigate others to violence. Again, it comes back, we want to see free, fair, transparent and peaceful [elections]. We want to support people who promote these principles. If you don’t, this is where the concerns lie. Visa sanctions can be applied not only to officials engaged in inappropriate behaviour, but it also can impact their spouses and their children as well. There are Magnitsky Sanctions for corruption and other gross violations of human rights that can lead to international asset freezes and financial sanctions.”

Young said once elections were concluded, the US Embassy would be looking actively at actions by some individuals during elections.

“With regards to potential restrictions against specific candidates, supporters, officials, cadre leaders, we have no decision taken yet. We have no decision yet, I am just sharing with you that these are issues we look at. We are actively looking at them now. The only thing I can say is that we are watching very intently, we have our eyes wide open and we are looking at all sides, all participants in this election, we are concerned about some of the trends we see. I do not want to comment on specific individuals but I would say that after the elections are over, we are going to be looking very actively at some particular individuals,” he said.

Young called on candidates taking part in Thursday’s general elections not to withdraw from the race.

“Today we heard a press conference for Dr Nevers Mumba, who raised concerns on his own behalf about the conduct of elections. I was personally gratified when Dr Mumba raised his concerns but did so without withdrawing from the race, which was a concern that had been reported. What we would urge is that candidates in the race for Presidency continue in the race for Presidency, don’t withdraw from the race. Candidates, please remain in the race, participate, work hard and do the best you can, but don’t withdraw, we are watching,” said Young.