Financial Times: Lungu is already ruling under state of emergency

Financial Times: Lungu is already ruling under state of emergency

The Financial Times is the leading financial press and is read by virtually all leading financiers and politicians in the developed world.

Below is what is has told the World about the current situation in Zambia.

Edgar Lungu accused of being increasingly autocratic in crackdown on opposition

Edgar Lungu, Zambia’s president, on Thursday said he had invoked emergency powers to counter “acts of sabotage” after a series of suspected arson attacks on public buildings. But analysts and critics accuse him of becoming increasingly autocratic and seeking to use the measures to ramp up a crackdown on the main opposition in what had been one of southern Africa’s most vibrant democracies.

“It’s an exaggerated and unnecessary step [and] a basis upon which to oppress the opposition further,” said Bradford Machila, a lawyer and former cabinet minister. Mr Lungu’s decision to invoke the powers on Wednesday in effect means he is ruling under a state of emergency, enabling him to prohibit public gatherings, impose curfews and silence critical media.

His dramatic move came after months of political tensions triggered by the government’s decision to charge Hakainde Hichilema, the main opposition leader, with treason over a traffic violation in April. Mr Hichilema was detained after his convoy refused to give way to the presidential motorcade. The rivals had fought a tightly contested election last year, which Mr Lungu narrowly won. Mr Hichilema claimed the vote was rigged. A series of mysterious fires have since hit public buildings, including this week when a blaze destroyed part of one of the main markets in Lusaka, the capital. Mr Lungu said the fire “bordered on economic sabotage” and was aimed at making Africa’s second biggest copper producer ungovernable. It is a strategy to create terror and panic so that they [the opposition] can say ‘there is tension in the country, let us talk EDGAR LUNGU “It is a systematic approach by the opposition to stampede us into talks so that we renegotiate the results of the last elections,” he said. “It is a strategy to create terror and panic so that they can say ‘there is tension in the country, let us talk’.” Mr Hichilema’s UPND party said in April the fires were “a ploy by the government to cause a state of emergency”. The president’s emergency powers will last for seven days, but he will seek parliamentary approval during the next week to extend them. Analysts say they expect little opposition to the move in the assembly as several UPND parliamentarians were recently suspended, effectively giving Mr Lungu’s ruling Patriotic Front free rein. There has been speculation in Lusaka that Mr Lungu will attempt to push for a third term in office, which could require amending the constitution, fuelling speculation that he has sought the emergency powers to bolster his chances of succeeding. Mr Hichilema’s potential acquittal in his treason trial “is the only thing coming up that would necessitate” Mr Lungu taking action now, said Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy and international development at Birmingham university. “They don’t really have the evidence. This is effectively a way of securing powers to keep HH [Hichilema] in jail.”

The UPND would be crippled by if Mr Hichilema, one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, remains in jail as it relies on him for financial support. The next election is in 2021. “This could run on for some time,” Mr Machila said, adding that “the greatest impact is going to be on the finance side” for the country, which is struggling with a slowdown in growth and rising debt levels. “The government is distracted, and absolutely obsessed, by the PF [Patriotic Front]-UPND internecine conflict,” one international investor said. But the “wheels of government are still turning”, the investor said. The use of emergency powers will revive memories of one-party rule under Kenneth Kaunda, the country’s founding president, who imposed a state of emergency from 1964 to 1991, when he lost power with the introduction of multi-party politics.

A group of Zambian churches said last month that the country “eminently qualifies to be branded a dictatorship” under Mr Lungu given the increasing intimidation by police and the arrest of Mr Hichilema.

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