Mixed reactions toward Zambia's emergency state proclamation

by Elias Shilangwa

LUSAKA, July 13 (Xinhua) -- Lawmakers from Zambia's ruling party voted on Wednesday to extend the declaration of the state of threatened public emergency by President Edgar Lungu on July 5.

The proclamation, which has now been extended for 90 days, is meant to give security agencies more powers to curb the rising cases of lawlessness in the southern African nation.

Zambia has witnessed a spate of public property damaging cases, with the latest one being the setting on fire of a famed market in Lusaka, the country's capital.

This prompted Lungu to declare a state of threatened public emergency by invoking Article 31 of the constitution in order to give security wings more powers.

The measures will be enforce through special regulations that authorities will deem necessary to restore public order and to prevent the declaration of a state of emergency.

In her statement, Vice-President Inonge Wina said it was imperative that lawmakers approved the proclamation in order to protect lives and property against acts of sabotage.

As expected, the lawmakers approved the proclamation through a unanimous vote, with 85 ruling party lawmakers voting in favor of the motion while lawmakers from the main opposition party boycotted the vote.

Forty-six lawmakers from the main opposition party, which has 58 lawmakers in parliament, are suspended for one month after they boycotted Lungu's address to parliament in March while their colleagues decided to walk out when the motion was being moved.

There have also been suspicions that the proclamation was meant to stifle critics.

According to the law, the invoking of Article 31 means that the police and other law enforcement agencies have been given extra powers to do their work.

This has raised fears in some quarters of society although the government has tried to allay the fears.

"All actions under the prescribed regulations will be implemented in a measured manner and targeted at individuals with criminal motives. No civil liberties have been, or will be suspended; there is no curfew; there are no lock-downs anywhere in the country," Amos Chanda, presidential spokesperson, said in a statement released after lawmakers supported the proclamation.

According to him, the frequency, magnitude and targeted nature of recent fires have undermined the nation's tranquility and destroyed people's livelihoods hence the need for special security measures to be invoked.

His views have been supported by Justice Minister Given Lubinda who feels that the government needed to act fast in order to enhance public security in the country.

"We have to make sure we bring our laws that are of this age and criminals have become sophisticated and we must also become sophisticated to curb these vices," he said.

But some stakeholders wondered whether the proclamation will fulfill its intended purpose.

Machila Jamba, an independent lawmaker, while welcoming the declaration said the government should be cautious in ensuring that people's rights are not infringed upon.

Former justice minister Wynter Kabimba and now an opposition leader said the proclamation was an injustice to the people, adding that the government should have first waited for security wings to conduct thorough investigations.

"In the absence of information, this proclamation is an injustice. This proclamation is an abuse of article 31," he said in a live interview on Radio Phoenix.

He said the move was a ploy by the government to deal with critics, adding that it was clear from pronouncements from government leaders that they were blaming the main opposition party of being behind the fires and destruction of other public properties.

Law professor Michelo Hansungule said the proclamation was politically motivated as it is evident that since last year's disputed elections, Lungu has been looking for anything that will make him govern without any opposition.

He argued that the police and other security wings do not require emergency powers to investigate the fires and other sabotages the country has witnessed.

[ Editor: meng ]


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