Press release August 18, 2021
Zambia: President-elect Must Reverse Predecessor’s Democratic Backslide, Protect Freedom of Expression, and Refrain from State-Sanctioned Violence
President-elect Hakainde Hichilema, who won the August election despite pandemic-related campaign restrictions and social media disruptions, must ensure that Zambia remains a model for democratic governance
In response to the recent presidential election in Zambia and President Edgar Lungu’s concession to President-elect Hakainde Hichilema, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The Zambian presidential election highlights the importance of voter participation and civic engagement, as well as a commitment to maintaining democratic ideals,” said Tiseke Kasambala, chief of party for Freedom House’s Southern Africa program. “Zambian voters bravely exercised their democratic rights as the government tried to stifle dissent and cast doubt on the electoral process.”
“President-elect Hichilema’s new administration should now prioritize justice and accountability for past abuses while maintaining peace and paving the way for a return to healthy democracy. In order to reverse the democratic backsliding of the past five years, President-elect Hichilema should safeguard media freedoms, ensure that state security forces operate responsibly and independently of political influence, and launch a concerted effort to tackle corruption and recover stolen assets.”
The Zambian presidential election was held on August 12 with an overall voter turnout of 71 percent. On August 15, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) announced that Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the opposition United Party for National Development, had defeated incumbent Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front, winning nearly 58 percent of the vote to Lungu’s 37 percent.
Prior to the election, the Lungu government adopted increasingly repressive tactics that activists feared had damaged the country’s democracy, long considered a regional model. In May, Lungu banned campaign rallies, citing concerns related to COVID-19. The Lungu government was also accused of employing lethal force to subdue opposition demonstrations and restricted the freedom of expression and independent media.
On election day, the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) blocked access to key social media platforms. Chapter One Foundation, a local nongovernmental organization, quickly challenged this move at the Lusaka High Court, which stayed ZICTA’s order pending its own ruling. The day before the ECZ announced the election results, Lungu decried the contest as neither free nor fair, indicating he initially sought to challenge the outcome.
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