Zambia Elections Show Closing Democratic Space in Southern Africa?



Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu has been re-elected, according to official results, which are being challenged by the main opposition party, the BBC reports:

The electoral commission said Mr Lungu had secured 50.35% in Thursday’s vote, just over the 50% threshold needed to avoid a second round under a new electoral system. His main rival, Hakainde Hichilema, who alleges electoral fraud, won 47.67%. Earlier, his UPND party withdrew from the ballot verification process.

“The question is will the elections be defined as free and fair, transparent and credible in this environment? My answer is no,” Hichilema said.

Zambia is the latest instance of a once-revered liberation-movement-turned-ruling-party facing increasing criticism and challenges over enduring poverty, unemployment and alleged corruption, says Alex Vines, the head of the Africa program at London research institution Chatham House. Young voters are growing in number, and many do not remember the pain of colonialism and oppression, but they keenly feel the pain of unemployment and inequality, he tells VOA.

“Most of these liberation movements have lost touch with people,” Vines said. “They have been unable to provide jobs and opportunities and spread wealth, and so inequality has grown and a number of party apparatchiks have gotten very rich.”

Zambians headed to the polls on August 11, 2016 to participate in presidential, parliamentary and local elections, as well as a constitutional referendum that could potentially amend the Bill of Rights, notes Freedom House:

The elections were expected to be a close two-party struggle between incumbent President Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front Party and Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development. Due to a constitutional amendment passed earlier this year, the winning presidential candidate must secure at least 50 percent of the vote, introducing the potential for a run-off contest. The political environment is tense, with outbreaks of violence between party supporters, government suppression of activists and the press, and accusations of election-rigging before the first vote has been cast.

These developments have raised fears that the elections will not be free and fair, and come amid increasing political volatility in the region. From economic crisis in Zimbabwe, to media censorship in South Africa’s local elections, to reignited conflict in Mozambique, to annulled Zanzibar elections last fall, there are serious challenges that put Southern Africa in an increasingly precarious position. Please join us to discuss these trends, challenges and the role of the international community in the region.

The Zambia Elections and Closing Democratic Space in Southern Africa

An analysis of the recent Zambian elections and their relevance for observed political trends throughout the Southern African region.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.


Paul Graham, Project Director, Southern Africa, Freedom House

Chloë McGrath, Visiting Fellow, Atlantic Council

Sibusiso Nhlabatsi, Human Rights Lawyer and Young African Leaders Initiative Fellow

Mooya Nyaundi, Staff Attorney for Sub-Saharan Africa, American Bar Association Center for Human Rights Jeffrey Smith, Executive Director, Vanguard Africa Movement

Sydney Watae, Senior Program Manager, Southern & East Africa, National Democratic Institute

Location: International Republican Institute

Ronald Reagan Events Center

1225 Eye Street NW, Suite 800

Washington, D.C. 20005


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