Zambians punished for voting for opposition

LUSAKA – Fifty-year-old Melves Mweene's only "crime" was to vote for the opposition candidate in Zambia's presidential by-election last month.

Like many others, she has since been attacked by supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), whose candidate, Edger Lungu, won the poll.

"I have lost property worth 6,500 Zambian kwacha (roughly $1,000). I don't know how life will be for me and my family," Mweene, a trader at Lusaka's Matero Market, told The Anadolu Agency.

Zambians went to the polls last month to elect a new president following the death late last year of President Michael Sata in London.

Lungu was declared the winner after defeating his main rival, Hakainde Hichilema of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), and several other contenders.

Since then, the country has witnessed numerous cases of political retribution, with opposition supporters being attacked and – in some cases – driven away from their homes by suspected PF supporters.

"There is no one here to protect us," Mweene lamented. "The Matero police station is aware of what is happening here, but police are nowhere to be seen."

She added: "It appears that even the police are scared of these machete-wielding cadres."

Joseph Nyambe, a 28-year-old bus driver in the town of Kafue, likewise accused PF cadres of terrorizing people – not only in marketplaces and bus stations, but even in their homes.

"These cadres just appeared from nowhere and started accusing people of supporting the UPND," he told AA.

"Before anyone could say anything, they started beating people up, saying they had no authority to question them," Nyambe said.

Edwin LIfwekelo, a 47-year-old schoolteacher, for his part, accused PF cadres of extortion.

"We get up in the morning to make a little money to support our families," he told AA. "But before you spend it, the money is looted by these PF thugs, who do nothing for a living."

"We have suffered enough only one week after the inauguration of President Lungu," LIfwekelo fumed. "We don't know how long this problem will persist before peace is restored."

Lungu, Zambia's sixth president since the country's independence from Britain in 1964, has ordered police to contain the violence.

"I have received numerous reports suggesting that PF supporters are harassing members of the opposition UPND," he told Police Inspector-General Stella Libongani at a recent function at State House, the seat of Zambia's government.

"I don't want to just condemn these acts of violence, but I also want this violence brought to an end," said Lungu. "That is why I am ordering… to bring perpetrators of this violence to book."

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While appreciating President Lungu's position, UPND Secretary-General Winstone Chibwe regretted that his party's supporters appeared to be being punished for their political affiliations.

"Known PF cadres armed with machetes, hoes, picks, enormous cooking sticks and planks are going around marketplaces to beat up and harass anybody they suspect of supporting us," he told AA.

"Those found wearing our party regalia are forced to undress," Chibwe fumed. "But there is either little or no protection from the police."

He suggested that the violence was aimed at scaring people into voting for PF candidates in 2016 general polls.

"This violence is strategic for the PF," the opposition leader told AA. "It is aimed at intimidating people not to support the opposition in forthcoming general elections."

Zambia's Human Rights Commission, for its part, has urged police to end the violence before the situation degenerates into a full-fledged conflict.

"People have a democratic right to choose the candidate of their choice," Commission Chairperson Pixy Yangailo told AA.

"To punish them for not supporting your candidate is not only unfair, but also violates human rights," she insisted. "I therefore urge the police to stop this violence before it gets out of hand."

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