Zambia is moving forward with plans for an inclusive political dialogue chaired by the country’s religious leaders, amid renewed concerns of political violence spurred by clashes earlier this month during a parliamentary by-election in Chilanga.
The Zambia Centre for Interparty Dialogue (ZCID) has been working on the process since last year, under pressure to address tensions that led to a state of emergency imposed by President Edgar Lungu. It followed ongoing conflict between Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party and the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), led by the frequently arrested Hakainde Hichilema.
The parties, along with other opposition leaders, agreed on a road map during meetings held earlier this week. That’s ahead of a summit of all political party presidents planned for this weekend.
Yet there were objections over ZCID’s role because of concerns over its impartiality, so it will continue in a facilitation capacity but the dialogue leadership will go to the country’s “church mother bodies.” In Zambia, that’s an ecumenical group that includes the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), Council of Churches Zambia (CCZ) and Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ).
The parties agree that the dialogue will focus on Zambia’s constitutional and institutional reforms, electoral reforms, judicial independence, and democratic freedoms in the political space. It is meant to ensure that presidential elections scheduled for 2021 are free of the violence and subsequent repression that marked Lungu’s disputed win in 2016.
Concerns over electoral violence returned to Zambia last week, after clashes between PF and UPND supporters. Fergus Cochrane Dyet, the British ambassador in Lusaka, said he witnessed signs of violence and intimidation – including armed gangs – and warned of low voter turnouts tied to intimidation.
The election was to fill the vacant seat of former UPND MP Keith Mukata, who was convicted of murder after a shooting at his law firm last year. PF candidate Maria Langa won the Chilanga MP seat, while Hichilema was widely condemned for making statements interpreted as support for violence.
“The behavior of political parties during the polls is a great disappointment,” the Zambian electoral commission said, in an acknowledgment of clashes at three polling stations on June 5.