Zambian police has placed the influential opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema under house arrest in Mufumbwe constituency, which has been engulfed in political upheaval in the run-up to today’s parliamentary by-elections.
Mr Hichilema’s UPND members allegedly assaulted a man, they claimed had impersonated a policeman, leading to their opposition leader’s arrest.
Mufumbwe and Milanzi constituencies in North Western and Eastern Provinces respectively, are voting for new parliamentarians after the deaths of their previous ones.
UPND chairman for elections Ackson Sejani confirmed the arrest of Mr Hichilema, who was in Mufumbwe campaigning for his party’s candidate Elliot Kamondo.
“He [Mr Hichilema] is held hostage under the supervision of inspector general of police Francis Kabonde. He was taken hostage around 05:00hours (Central African Time),” Mr Sejani said.
“The entire UPND campaign team has been barricaded by the police; we can’t go out,” said Mr Sejani adding that even UPND camps were surrounded by police officers.
He said there was a heavy presence of police officers at polling stations.
Mr Sejani claimed that the arrest of Mr Hichilema and barricading of UPND campaigners was meant to block them from observing the voting and counting of votes later in the evening.
Of late, Mr Hichilema, co-leader of the PF/UPND electoral pact, has exchange bitter words with President Rupiah Banda, who was also in Mufumbwe .
Milanzi, which has 19, 700 registered voters, is experiencing voter apathy.
A local elections observer, Bonnie Tembo, leader of the Anti Voter Apathy Project (AVAP), said the high levels of illiteracy might affect the election.
“…for instance youths failing to know how to vote. Can you imagine a youth asking to be assisted by the presiding officer? I have seen four cases at this (Kagoro) polling station,” said Mr Tembo. “In most places I have been people are so eager to vote and the majority of them are old people.”
He said the peaceful situation in Milanzi, unlike volatile Mufumbwe, has contributed to people turning in large numbers of people going to polling stations to vote.
“We have not received reports of irregularities,” said Mr Tembo.