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Zambia suspends 48 MPs who boycotted president’s speech

Zambia’s Lungu

Lusaka, Zambia | AFP |  Zambia’s parliament on Tuesday suspended 48 opposition lawmakers who boycotted President Edgar Lungu’s address to legislators in March to protest his contested electoral victory.

The lawmakers from the United Party for National Development (UPND) skipped Lungu’s address claiming he was not the legitimate winner of the August 11 vote.

Parliament Speaker Patrick Matibini said they should quit if they did not accept Lungu as the head of state.

“I challenge you to resign on moral grounds if you do not recognise that there is a legitimately elected government,” Matibini said in parliament.

“I have, in exercise of my powers, decided to suspend the 48 members of parliament from service for a period of 30 days with effect from today.”

Matibini said that the lawmakers would not be paid or have access to the parliament building or lodgings during their suspension.

He also called for police to investigate the UPND’s leader, Hakainde Hichilema, on allegations of insulting the office of speaker.

Tuesday’s decision is the latest in a long-running battle between Zambia’s government and the principal opposition.

Hichilema has launched unsuccessful legal bids to challenge Lungu’s victory in last year’s election, and the businessman-turned-politician has said he does not recognise Lungu’s presidency.

He claims the vote was rigged and accuses Lungu of unleashing an unprecedented bout of political repression in the southern African country, which is known for its relative stability.

Hichilema has been in custody since April accused of treason over allegedly putting the president’s life in danger when his motorcade failed to make way for the head of state’s limousine during a high-speed incident.

– ‘Police sprayed pepper spray’ –

“There are dictatorial tendencies… that have been exhibited by our leaders,” political analyst MacDonald Chipenzi told AFP.

“There will be no state of emergency, there’ll be no curfew, there’ll be nothing — but freedoms will be curtailed by institutions that are supposed to protect you,” he added.

Hichilema has claimed that he was assaulted by police during his arrest and has suffered mistreatment in detention.

The alleged motorcade incident occurred on the weekend of April 8-9 as the two men were both travelling to the Western province for a traditional ceremony.

Days later, more than 100 armed police surrounded Hichilema’s house outside Lusaka, firing tear gas before taking him into custody.

His lawyer accused police of using excessive force during the arrest and of “torturing” in custody three three aides who were arrested a day earlier.

“The police sprayed pepper spray in their private parts, mouth, ears,” Hichilema’s lawyer Jack Mwiimbu said.

Alex Ng’oma, a political lecturer at the University of Zambia, called on Lungu and Hichilema to come together in the national interest.

“The relationship has been very, very difficult. The opposition have vowed not to work with the government of the day. There is no constructive criticism — it’s just opposition for the sake of opposition which I think is not good,” he told AFP.

“Going forward it is important that the party can govern on the one hand, and the opposition parties on the other hand can adopt a bipartisan approach to these issues.”

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