Zambian President Edgar Lungu said Sunday he has ordered the deployment of the military to quell electoral violence ahead of elections on August 12.
“Maintaining law and order is a daily chore of the police, but sometimes they need help from other security wings,” Lungu said. In several parts of the country, supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and the United Party for National Development (UPND) opposition have clashed using machetes, axes, slashers, catapults and other objects.
Violence has been reported in the Zambian capital Lusaka as well as Northern, Southern and Muchinga provinces. “In order to curb the political violence we have witnessed in the past two days, I have allowed the Zambia army, Zambia air force and Zambia national service to help the Zambia police in dealing with the security situation,” Lungu said. Even though the Electoral Commission has banned rallies as part of measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, clashes between opposing political parties have overwhelmed the police, he said.
Political analyst Lee Habasonda described the move as “draconian”. “The situation has not reached the levels where the military should be on the streets,” Habasonda, a politics lecturer at the University of Zambia, told AFP. Civil society groups described the move as an act of desperation. “The PF is losing this election and this is a desperate measure to scare voters,” said human rights activist Brebner Changala.
NGO Alliance for Community Action director Laura Miti said the measure was “inexplicable” in the absence of any breakdown of law and order. “You only order the army out of the barracks when even the citizens can see that there is a breakdown in the rule of law,” she told AFP.
Rights group Amnesty International said in a recent report that the government of the southern African nation had grown increasingly intolerant of dissent since Lungu replaced Michael Sata following his death in 2014. Opposition UPND officials were not immediately available for a comment. Lungu, 64, is running for a second term in the August 12 election as the copper-rich country battles economic woes. Lungu’s main rival Hakainde Hichilema has been detained several times since he started contesting the top job.