The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) has noted with deep concern the increasing incidences of violence and disorderly conduct associated with political activities in Zambia. LAZ has issued several statements condemning the violent activities of the members of rival political parties and has been calling on the leaders of political parties to engage their membership and issue directions on how to conduct their political activities within the confines of the law. LAZ has also made repeated calls to the Zambia Police and other state law enforcement agencies to act decisively and bring all perpetrators of violence to justice as a way of preserving peace in the country.
Rather dishearteningly, the advice and the calls of LAZ and other stakeholders in the governance of our country, have not been heeded by the authorities responsible for maintaining law and order. Consequently, political violence has been on the rise at a very alarming rate. Recent examples of incidences of politically motivated violence include the following:
1. The threatened attacks by Patriotic Front (PF) supporters on the Post Newspaper Managing Director Fred M’membe in full view of members of LAZ at Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport;
2. The attack by PF supporters on United Party for National Development (UPND) Cadres in Sinda constituency in Eastern Province;
3. The conduct of UPND supporters on the occasion of the visit by the Republican President to North Western Province and Southern Province;
4. The conduct of PF supporters at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport upon return of the Republican President from a recent trip to Europe and assault on a fellow PF cadre;
5. The discharge of a tear gas canister into a room by Police to disperse the meeting convened by the movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) to hear the address of their President;
6. The threatened attack by PF supporters on the Democratic Front (DF) Leader Mr. Miles Sampa at Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International airport; and
7. The attack by UPND supporters on government officials and journalists in Bweengwa.
LAZ observes that the above incidences, and several others which may not have been well documented, are symptomatic of a serious breakdown of law and order in the country and are a threat not only to the holding of free, fair and credible elections, as expected in August 2016, but also to our very existence as a sovereign state which has enjoyed unrivalled peace on the African Continent for over fifty years.
LAZ also wishes to condemn the reported actions of PF Cadres against a Company called Johabie Bus Company at Lusaka’s Intercity Bus Terminus. The cadres alleged conduct is not only an affront to the owners of Johabie Bus Company Limited’s rights and freedom of association and to operate their business freely but also demonstrate the break down in law and order. The protection that PF Cadres seem or believe to have from law enforcement officers is also leading to the cadres’ unlawful conduct. The report in today’s edition of the Post relating to Mr. Maxwell Chongo and the statements attributed to him are a clear example of the perception by PF cadres that they can perpetrate violence against any citizen or perceived political opponent with impunity.
LAZ also wishes to register its deep concern with officers of the Zambia Police Service who continue to fail to discharge their statutory functions and to act impartially in maintaining law and order. The recent statement attributed to Mr. Bonnie Kapeso, Commissioner of Police for Northern Province, that the Patriotic Front is above the Public Order Act (POA), and the recent statement attributed to the Inspector General threatening UPND cadres after the incident at Bweengwa, make very disturbing reading, particularly in the light of very clear guidance that was given to the police by the Supreme Court in the celebrated cases such as Resident Doctors and Others v The Attorney-General SCZ Judgement No. 12 of 2003 on the role of the police in the administration of the POA. It is extremely worrying that a police officer of Mr. Kapeso’s standing can so carelessly interpret a statutory provision as to take away the freedoms guaranteed for citizens by the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Republican Constitution.
While LAZ concurs with the condemnation by His Excellency President Edgar Chagwa Lungu of the failure of the police to protect members of the public following violence by UPND members in Bweengwa, we urge President Lungu to equally condemn violence and disorderly conduct when perpetrated by members of the PF. What we understand or can be understood to have been the President’s call to the Inspector General to protect PF cadres shows a partisanship that has no place in an office that should seek to serve all members of society regardless of political affiliation. LAZ wishes to remind the President that he is sworn to the constitutional duty to preside over the affairs of the nation above partisan politics.
At the same time, LAZ strongly condemns the conduct of the leaders of the UPND for their failure to categorically and unequivocally condemn their members when they engage in violent conduct. No legal excuse can be given for citizens to take the law into their own hands, even on account of failure by the police to objectively and professionally administer the POA.
The events of the recent past clearly bring into sharp focus the difficulties created by the police in the administration of the POA. It is for this very reason that LAZ took the initiative of taking out a public interest action against the Government before the High Court of Judicature, which action is now pending hearing and the judgment of the Supreme Court. This notwithstanding, it was gratifying to hear the Republican President call for a wider stakeholder consultation for the amendment of the POA or the promulgation of Regulations to be followed by the Police and Citizens in the administration of the POA.
Being mindful that the consultative process will take some time before making headway on the contemplated amendment or regulations, LAZ proposes the following urgent decisive steps as a way of curbing political violence and creating a conducive environment for the holding of free and fair elections namely:
1. Denunciation of violence and commitment to peace by political leaders
LAZ calls upon the Republican President to publicly denounce violence and give express directives to the police to implement their statutory mandate of protecting all citizens regardless of the citizens’ political persuasion.
LAZ also calls upon the President of the UPND to expressly denounce the pronouncements made by the party’s cadres declaring the an eye for an eye approach in responding to the conduct of PF cadres who hitherto seem to base their actions on the erroneous premises that the POA does not apply to them.
2. Holding of stakeholder meeting
LAZ calls for the convening of an urgent stakeholder meeting to be attended by representatives of political parties, professional bodies, religious organisations and civil society organisations to interrogate this hideous vice of politically motivated violence and to agree on what must be done to curb the vice as the country heads towards the next tripartite elections.
3. Creating the action plan to empower the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to deal with political conflict
LAZ calls on the ECZ to take a lead in the quest to create the action plan which the stakeholders especially political parties will follow in preparing for and managing a free, fair and credible election. To this end LAZ expects the ECZ to start engaging leaders of political parties and the police to agree a campaign time table to be followed after the announcement of the official campaign period. This will assist the police to come up with a plan to assist the campaign programme and prevent the cancellation of party events on the now common excuse that the police lack manpower to provide security during the campaign period.
4. Youth Engagement
LAZ calls on all youth to desist from being used by political actors to intimidate other political players.
Finally, LAZ calls upon our leaders across the political divide to show genuine leadership by promoting the rule of law, respect for human rights, good governance and unity in the nation for the benefit of all Zambians.
24th February 2016