World Bulletin/News Desk
Only a few days ahead of a presidential by-election, Zambia's political parties have pledged not only to renounce and condemn all election-related violence, but also to disavow any groups or individuals found instigating electoral unrest.
Speaking at a press briefing in Lusaka, Electoral Commission of Zambia Director Priscilla Isaacs said that all political parties, at a Friday meeting, had voiced regret for past bouts of political violence, pledging to refrain from it in the future.
"As a starting point towards ending political violence, which has characterized the campaigns ahead of the presidential election, all the political parties that attended the meeting have renounced violence. They have also agreed to dismantle all structures that support any form of political violence," Isaacs told the presser.
Isaacs added that all political parties had further assured the commission that, once elected, they would enact a law giving the commission power to automatically disqualify political parties found violating the electoral code of conduct.
According to Isaacs, all political parties were of the view that some of their supporters were taking advantage of the lack of legislation that might be used to penalize errant political parties.
"All political parties have assured the commission through my office that, once elected, the first thing they will do is to come up with stiff electoral laws against perpetrators of violence, which will meted on them and will act as deterrent," she said.
"All political parties have agreed that violence should not be tolerated, because it was a recipe of not only to voter apathy, but can also lead to an election being declared not free and fair," she added.
The pledge came one week after supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) clashed with supporters of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) in Mongu, provincial capital of Western Province.
Violence erupted when UPND leader and presidential candidate Hakainde Hichilema refused to delay his helicopter's departure until a plane carrying acting President Guy Scott could land.
Recently, in the Shiwa Ngandu area of Zambia's Northern Province, police officers thwarted attempts by suspected PF supporters to torch a helicopter carrying several UPND leaders after it had landed in the area.
Police used teargas to disperse the crowd and several people arrested during the melee now face prosecution.
Also last week, four opposition activists were arrested after being found carrying weapons while on their way to a campaign rally organized by the ruling PF.
Zambians will go to the polls on Jan. 20 to elect a new president following the death of President Michael Sata in a London hospital late last year.
Zambia's last general elections in 2011 saw numerous incidents of rioting after then opposition leader Sata accused the rival camp of then-president Rupiah Banda of rigging the vote.
Violence was also reported in Zambia's northern mining region of Copperbelt over delayed polling results.
Isaacs said that all political parties had agreed to a plan for transmitting election results electronically to a main polling center in Lusaka before a final announcement.
She pointed out, however, that the plan faced resistance from certain stakeholders who voiced fear of vote-rigging.
"Initially, some political parties and other stakeholders resisted the idea of electronically transmitting election results because they feel the results could easily be intercepted and then retransmitted after being altered by unscrupulous parties," she said.
"But after explaining to them how the system works and the advantages of using electronic transmission, they accepted," she added.
The commission chief also asserted that all political parties and other interest groups would be represented at all polling stations and constituency-based vote-counting centers.
After the results are counted and authenticated, the commission officers will transmit them to the main electoral center in Lusaka for official announcement, she explained.
There are 5,166,088 registered voters in Zambia, which has a population of over 13 million, according to a 2010 national census conducted by Zambia's official statistics agency.
Voters will choose from among 11 contenders, including Defense and Justice Minister Edgar Lungu, who is contesting the race on the PF's ticket.Last Mod: 16 Ocak 2015, 15:48