Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 August 2021:
Yesterday’s elections in Zambia went on relatively smoothly and peacefully, with a few disruptive incidents, one of which resulted in the death of a regional chairman of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party. As expected, the polls were a two-horse race between the incumbent Patriotic Front party of President Edgar Lungu, and the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) of Haikainda Hichileme.
“Like our observers deployed across the ten provinces, I was out and about Lusaka and observed the opening of the polls, the voting process and the closing. Party Agents of particularly the two major contenders, were present in the polling stations and participated in all the procedures of voters verification, ballot sorting, counting, recording, authenticating of results at the polling stations, as well as in sealing of the ballot boxes,” said President Koroma.
The AU Chief Elections Observer also noted that: “Generally, we observed polls opening mostly on time, the process was transparent, orderly and largely peaceful.”
And he had some good words for the Zambia people and those involved with the electoral process.
“The people of Zambia and all the stakeholders involved in organising these elections to this point should be proud of themselves for a job well done.”
As Zambians wait in bated breath the outcome of these elections, the experienced and charismatic head of the AUEOM to Zambia, president Ernest Bai Koroma, has, in pursuit of AU’s charters on peace, democracy and credible elections, shifted into ‘preventive diplomacy’ through background engagements with the two protagonists.
And the reason is obvious. Incumbent president Lungu and UPND candidate Hichilema, have a very frosty relationship which has translated into open antagonism between their supporters. Lungu complained that Hichilema does not recognise his presidency. At the same time, the UPND leader says president Lungu has ruined the economy, ruled with an iron fist and, through police violence, intimidation and incarceration, constricted the democratic space in Zambia.
Some disturbances were reported yesterday morning in certain parts of the country, with concerns of the intermittent shut down of the internet, raising fears of post-election unrest in the country.
The head of the AUEOM, former President Ernest Bai Koroma, has therefore reiterated its appeal to all concerned to continue to keep the peace.
“By all means, this exercise should be concluded to the satisfaction, pride and to this great nation’s credentials as a beacon of peace, stability and democratic progress,” he stated.
President Koroma also urged that: “when and where there are disagreements, the official/legitimate dispute resolution mechanisms should be utilised”.
Yesterday, President Koroma was locked in a one-on-one meeting with the incumbent president Edgar Lungu, and later met with the head of the Electoral Commission of Zambia and UPND leader, Mr Hichilema.
Today, situation in Zambia is very fluid with the acceptability of the 12 August elections outcome hanging in a balance. The uncertainty of the situation has heightened the anxieties about Zambia’s peace and security. The elections have been fiercely contested by the incumbent, president Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF) party, and the leader of the main opposition United Party for National Development, UPND, businessman Haikainda Hichilema.
The two protagonists have reportedly had a long running feud and with concerns that the ills of regional/ethnic politics may be playing a big role in these elections, there are real and justifiable fears that Zambia may be on a slippery slope to post elections violence.
While some analysts believe that the earlier the final results are announced the better for post elections reconciliation, there is also an apparent consensus within some circles that it is critical that the outcome is credible and acceptable to both parties. That burden is resting squarely on the broad shoulders of the chairperson of the Elections Commission of Zambia, (ECZ), Rtd Justice Esau E. Chulu.
Earlier, the ECZ had assured the nation that they would announce the final results within 72 hours, a position which they reaffirmed today. Also, the ECZ has since yesterday been providing regular and live updates on the elections process and today they have started announcing provisional results which are trickling in from the field. But in a very unusual turn, an official of the main opposition UPND, during an ECZ press conference this evening, objected to the announcement of provisional results from three key regions.
“We object to the announcement of these results because we believe that they are not consistent with what our polling agents in those regions had sent to us,” the UPND official said at the press conference being aired live on the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC). Even more curious, another UPND representative lamented that: “we came to the Commission to ‘verify’ these results and we were asked to wait in one of the rooms upstairs. Therefore, we are very surprised and displeased that suddenly, officials of the ECZ who had asked us to wait have now emerged at the conference hall to announce those same results we are here to verify”. The ECZ had to abort the proceedings and retire along the the UPND representatives to, as they put it, “resolve the misunderstanding”.
At the same time, a few other opposition parties, particularly the Socialist Party of Fred M’membe, have reportedly congratulated the UPND leader, Mr. Hichilema, thereby making an already tricky situation more precarious.
To pacify this fast deteriorating political quagmire, the head of the African Union Elections Observation Mission (AUEOM) to Zambia, president Ernest Bai Koroma, has strategically shifted from elections observation to what the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace & Security, Ambassador Bankole Adeoye, describes as ‘preventive diplomacy’.
To this effect, over the last twenty hours, President Koroma has launched into closed door One – On – One discussions with the two protagonists, the leadership of ECZ and a wide array of key institutions organisations involved with Zambia’s electoral process. President Koroma would not disclose the details from the closed-door discussions but he sounds optimistic that Zambia will once again come through this as a strong, peaceful, stable and democratic country.
“What is important is that both leaders love their country deeply and they are both aware that if they do not manage the situation well, there could be dire consequences for the peace and stability of the country they aspire to govern,” he said.
President Koroma also has some advise to those who may want to take things into their hands. “Violence would only result in hurting each other, in destroying your hard – earned reputation, in the disruption of your kids schooling, your businesses/ livelihoods, and in worsening the economy already constrained by effects of COVID -19”.
Urging Zambians to remain calm and law abiding, President Koroma assured that the AU will continue to do everything to support the people of Zambia through this anxious moment