The Patriotic Front (PF) party, with the help of police deployed cadres to make sure opposition political party leaders were unable to mobilise support during the 2021 election campaign.

PF leader, outgoing president Edgar Lungu’s six-year rule was criticised for alleged human rights abuses, corruption, a failing economy and massive unemployment. Opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema won the 12 August election with more than a million votes.

With Mr Lungu pushing for re-election in June this year, UPND officials in Mongu, Western Province, were stunned when they found windowpanes of their office had been extensively damaged by stone-throwing cadres on the chilly Wednesday morning of 16 June.

UPND office in Mongu after an attack

Police in Mongu told a local radio station that they were investigating the matter, and one person was later arrested.

“One person was arrested in connection with the destruction of the office, but the police have not given us chance to see him,” David Morgan Akabeswa, UPND provincial Information and publicity secretary told MakanDay.

Independent observers and opposition groups accused the police of siding with the ruling party.

Three UPND supporters were arrested after they clashed with the ruling party in Mongu while protecting campaign posters mounted in town. But according to police in Lusaka, two suspects were arrested for assaulting a police officer.

Police said on 3 June around 15:45hrs, they received information that cadres from the UPND, led by the party’s deputy chairman John Chiinga and Mr Imasiku had attacked PF cadres who were mounting campaign materials on Zesco electric poles along the Mongu-Lusaka Road.

Police deputy spokesperson said Mr Chiinga was resisting arrest and in the process, he assaulted the Officer-In-Charge for Mongu Central Police Station, Edgar Nkowane. Mr Nkowane injured his right arm and leg and was taken to Lewanika General Hospital for medical attention and later discharged.

Mr. Chiinga and Mr. Imasiku were subsequently arrested and later released by the local court on bail after spending almost three weeks in detention.

Local journalists told MakanDay Centre for Investigative Journalism that police could have been hands-on because tension between the two parties had been building up long before the campaign.

MakanDay established that ruling party supporters were removing opposition party campaign materials and replacing them with those of their party when they were informed that Mr Lungu would be in Mongu. The trip was aborted after Mr Lungu collapsed during the national defense day event in Lusaka a week earlier, raising concern among Zambians over the health of their leader.

Mongu town painted in green

Shortly after the event, Secretary to the Cabinet Dr Simon Miti, issued a statement assuring Zambians and the international community that President Lungu “is well and has continued to discharge his duties”.

The UPND leader in the province complained about the police’s failure to act independently and protect their members.

A day after an attack in Mongu, Mr Lungu was in Kaoma, a town in Western Province. Some of his supporters from Lusaka were already in the area. They led a team that was removing campaign posters of the opposition so that by the time the president arrived, he would see no trace of the UPND on the ground.

A UPND official in Mongu told MakanDay that he suspects the same PF group that was in Kaoma also carried out the attack on the UPND office in Mongu. The accusation could not be independently verified.

The PF in Mongu did not respond to MaKanDay’s request for an interview.

The confusion in Mongu took place a few days after the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) had banned road shows by the ruling PF and UPND, due to reported cases of violence in the capital Lusaka and some parts of the country. The electoral body had already suspended campaign rallies following an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Nshindano (centre) during a press conference in Lusaka

Chief electoral officer, Kryticous Nshindano told a media briefing in Lusaka that the commission had already indicated that “it would be following the activities of both the PF and UPND with keen interest and should electoral violence continue, both parties risk being suspended”.

“Further, we have noted with dismay that the road shows are being used to instigate violence, pulling down of campaign materials and instilling a sense of fear in the general public,” said Nshindano.

ECZ full statement:

The boisterous behaviour of party supporters was spreading unabated, although the electoral body had warned that “it would not hesitate to invoke the Code of Conduct and suspend indefinitely all manner of campaigns should these violent acts continue”.

Violence was also witnessed on voting day and two people, including PF official Jackson Kungo, a were killed by a mob at a polling station in Solwezi, North Western Province.

“What we are witnessing is terrorism under the guise of democracy,” said President Lungu at a funeral in Solwezi, a few days after his party’s electoral defeat.

After the 2016 election, president Lungu set up a commission of inquiry to investigate causes of current regional voting patterns and electoral violence. One of the observations by the Commission was that engaging in political violence was profitable to some individuals.

“The Commission observes that there was a general perception that some individuals who engaged in acts of violence were being rewarded through appointments to Government positions, parastatals and access to Government contracts which amounted to endorsing acts of violence,” the report of the Commission said.

The Commission also observed that there is a public perception that due to political patronage, alleged perpetrators of violence were apparently protected by the Government system.