EU deploys almost a hundred observers for tightly contested Zambian polls

THE  European Union (EU) has deployed a 31-member team to observe the Zambian presidential and parliamentary elections set for August 11 as five of the seven contesting political parties signed a common pledge to desist from violence as the campaign draws to a close.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement the electoral observer mission (EOM) was deployed to Zambia early in July to ensure that the forthcoming elections were used to consolidate and entrench democracy in the country.

The EU mission is one of several international bodies invited by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to observe the elections. It is led by African-European Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Cecile Kashetu Kyenge as chief observer.

“The upcoming elections are expected to be one of the most competitive in the country’s history and can further consolidate Zambia’s track record for well-run elections. I trust that these forthcoming elections will be transparent and peaceful, with all sides refraining from actions and statements that may incite violence.

“Of course, all parties should abide by the law and resolve any election dispute through dialogue and available legal remedies. Under the leadership of chief observer Kyenge I am confident that the EU EOM will make an important contribution to this electoral process,” Mogherini said.

The first seven members of the EU mission arrived in Zambia on June 29. They have since been joined by 24 more observers deployed to Lusaka on July 11, and 56 more are expected to arrive on August 5 to boost the mission strength to 87.

“Also, a delegation of the European Parliament and Zambia-based diplomats from EU member states will reinforce the mission on election day. The EU EOM stands ready to co-operate with other international observation missions. The deployment of an EU EOM aims to contribute to enhancing the transparency of the process, the respect for fundamental freedoms, and emphasises the importance of further follow-up to EOM recommendations,” Mogherini said.

Strengthening the EU mission came against a backdrop of widespread concern over political violence and police killings of opposition supporters in the past three weeks. On Friday, five of the eight political parties contesting the polls signed a common pledge to a non-violent election campaign following a series of inter-party clashes.

The five signatories to the electoral code of conduct are the governing Patriotic Front, the United National Independence Party (UNIP), the People’s Alliance for Change (PAC), the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD), and the Democratic Alliance (DA).

The move is aimed at curbing escalating political violence, which forced the ECZ to order a 10-day ban on all political activities and campaigns in the Namwala and Lusaka districts. The ban, which ran from July 10, will end on Monday, July 18.

Three opposition parties – the United Party for National Development (UPND), the Rainbow Party (RP), and the United Progressive People Party (UPPP) – refused to sign the pact. In the past two weeks, Zambian police have shot and killed four supporters of the main opposition UPND in campaign-related protests.

Security agencies have also seized documents from the headquarters of the UPND in an apparent search for weapons which ended with the seizures of many internal party documents. On Friday, the police sealed off the premises of Radio Mano, a community station in the northern town of Kasama, to stop the broadcast of an interview with UPND vice president Geoffrey Mwamba.

According to the Lusaka Times, the Northern Province deputy police commissioner said the station could not host the opposition leader because President Edgar Lungu was campaigning in the province on the same day. However, the interview was aired from within the same town through an outside broadcasting facility.