Political Tensions Intensify in Zambia Before August Vote

  • President directs police to put an end to political violence
  • Zambia's economy weakens on lower copper prices, power crisis

Zambian President Edgar Lungu ordered the police to bring an end to violence in the southern African nation after he accused opposition supporters of attacking people returning from a rally he addressed at the weekend.

Members of the opposition United Party for National Development damaged three vehicles and injured law-enforcement reservists, police said on Sunday. The party, which lost a presidential election to Lungu’s Patriotic Front by less than 28,000 votes last year, denied that its members carried out the attacks.

“I have directed the police to stop this violence and ensure that citizens’ rights and security are assured and restored,” Lungu said in a statement posted to his Facebook account.

Zambia will hold its second election in two years in August after Lungu won last year’s polls to succeed Michael Sata, who died in office. The vote comes as Zambia’s economy expands at the slowest pace since 1998, inflation surged to 21.8 percent and Africa’s second-biggest copper producer struggles to save jobs and maintain revenue as prices for the metal plunge. A severe power crisis has further strained growth.

Violent Outbreaks

“The lead-up to the 2016 elections will increasingly be marked by outbreaks of violence between partisan supporters and security forces,” Robert Besseling, a Johannesburg-based executive director at business risk consultancy Exx Africa, said by e-mail. “The recent violent incidents in the Southern province are indicative of growing discontent within the ruling PF party.”

The weekend incident follows other clashes this year. Police are investigating people suspected to be ruling party supporters who stormed an international airport in the Copperbelt province on Jan. 23, Home Affairs Minister Davies Mwila told lawmakers last week. They had tried to prevent Miles Sampa, who quit the Patriotic Front to form his own party, from disembarking from the plane, Mwila said. He also detailed two other cases of political violence this year.

U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Eric Schultz said the airport invasion represented a breakdown of law an order.

“Zambia police would like to strongly warn all political parties to desist from being involved in violence,” Inspector-General Kakoma Kanganja said in an e-mailed statement.

Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of the United Party for National Development, is the most likely to benefit from falling support for the PF when the elections are held, Besseling said.

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