HAKAINDE Hichilema has called on the UPND general membership across Zambia to “stay the course and keep your eyes on the ball” despite hitches in the fight to retain democracy, peace and stability in the country.
And Hichilema, who is UPND leader, says it is fair to thank the police service for showing some semblance of professionalism and hard work in the just-ended Chilanga parliamentary by-election.
Giving an overview of the Chilanga parliamentary by-election held on June 5 and won by ruling PF’s Maria Langa, Hichilema, who featured on a special interview on Prime TV on Thursday night, described “election as warfare”.
“Chilanga was not an election – Chilanga was a war zone! It was war in Chilanga. You just have to look at the number of guns that were in Chilanga! The thugs that roamed Chilanga…The way they conducted themselves in Chilanga – ignoring any restrictive instructions from those that are charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order. You have groups that are sponsored by the PF to act above the law and they demonstrated that in Chilanga. The amount of weaponry; the bullets that were discharged in Chilanga, especially on the voting day and the night that followed, is unprecedented. In such an environment, there would be injuries and truly there were a lot of injuries. So, you can’t call that as an election,” Hichilema said.
“I can argue also using the voter turnout; close to 50,000 voters are registered in Chilanga [but] of this number, around 14,000 voted. The question is why? It is because citizens were frightened by the violence perpetrated by thugs.”
He noted that in a contestation to choose representatives through elections but where voter turnout was miserably low, it meant “we are damaging democracy.”
“It means voting is replaced by a show of force which decides the winner. We can’t call that an election. That is a situation we read about in Somalia and South Sudan and it’s really disgraceful to all of us as citizens of Zambia that we can allow a situation like that to obtain and there was an election in Chilanga,” Hichilema lamented.
The opposition leader also extended a message to the UPND members to thank them for their relentless support.
“Our message, not only to our members, but to our supporters and sympathisers who are in their millions in this country; I know you would have loved us to have delivered an MP in Chilanga. We didn’t [and] we let you down in some way because we should have read the situation. Maybe we should have taken certain measures within our powers. But what went on in Chilanga was beyond our powers or our persuasive capabilities to ask voters to vote for us. It was something else! However, we still say to you ‘you must not lose heart.’ You did a lot to help the party [to] win Chilanga and we thank you for that. We thank our members and our campaign teams who worked tirelessly in Chilanga, polling station by polling station, to campaign within the environment that was obtaining in Chilanga prior to voting. Our candidate (Charmaine Musonda) was attacked during the campaigns but our members worked very hard to woo voters. On behalf of UPND, I’m proud of you,” Hichilema said.
“Our members this time around worked in a different way – in a way where their intentions that nobody will take their vote from them in a polling station. You did a tremendous job [and] that spirit you exhibited to the defend the vote in Chilanga, despite the environment, I encourage you to continue on that path. I’m seeing a new and correct spirit of sacrifice – let’s continue with that.”
And Hichilema pointed out that he noticed, regrettably, that sometimes UPND supporters fell in the trap of driving themselves to squabbles.
“I understand what is breeding that – some frustration. When you get beaten or teargassed, sometimes you mistake who is a true source of the problem. [But] you are not the source of the problem amongst yourselves! We can debate about the choice of candidates – that’s fair. We can debate about anything else – that’s fair. We can debate about how to improve ourselves in the campaigns, vote protection – that is fair. But what I guide against is for you to fight with each other at the pleasure of those who are instigating difficulties, the PF. Suggestions for improvements are welcome [because] internal criticism is part of human development and institutional progression and we welcome that. But it is different from going for each other’s throat….” Hichilema advised.
“Stay the course and keep your eyes on the ball. You are beginning to act correctly and I saw it in Chilanga. I therefore advise also that going forward, continue to defend yourselves when you are attacked by those who believe that force is the way they will run this country. No ways! We we’ll fight to retain our democracy, peace and stability and part of the toolkit that we’ll utilise is to protect ourselves. Soon the message will sink to the brutal attackers that there is no room for barbaric behaviour like what they exhibited in Chilanga.”
He stressed that it was darkest before dawn.
“If you know how to collect honey from bees, when you are getting closer to the honey the bees sting even more. If are an inexperienced honey collector, you’ll run away. [But] if you are an experienced and focused one, continue because the bee stings are, unfortunately, part of the process towards accessing the honey. So, remain strong,” Hichilema noted.
He further thanked Musonda, for being strong during the campaigns.
“I phoned her yesterday (Wednesday) and I told her to remain strong,” Hichilema said.
Meanwhile, Hichilema noted that: “For once, it is fair and genuinely so that we should thank our police service for working very hard in Chilanga to allow for campaigns to take place and to retain some semblance of professionalism on the voting day in keeping law and order around polling stations. They tried very hard.”