Zambia Opposition Leader Determined to Overturn Lungu’s Presidency

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CAPE TOWN (Bloomberg)–A year after elections brought Zambian President Edgar Lungu to power, his main rival Hakainde Hichilema remains determined to have the outcome overturned despite spending more than four months in detention on treason charges.

Hichilema has refused to acknowledge Lungu as president of Africa’s second-biggest copper producer since losing the presidential vote in August last year, saying the elections were rigged. A lawsuit filed by his United Party for National Development to have the results nullified was dismissed by the Constitutional Court after the 14-day deadline to hear the challenge lapsed. Hichilema has since filed another case in the High Court.

“We have not resigned ourselves,” Hichilema, 55, said in an interview on Thursday in Cape Town, where he met leaders of South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. “You have recourse to a civilized, legal route to challenge it and that is what we are doing.”

Hichilema was released from prison on Aug. 16 after Zambia’s prosecutor dropped the case that had resulted in his arrest in April. The opposition leader was accused of treason after police said his convoy failed to pull over for Lungu’s motorcade in the west of the country.

Legal Loopholes

Hichilema said he spent eight days in solitary confinement in a dark room that was smeared in feces, before being transferred to a prison where he was incarcerated with more than 100 criminals in a cell so crowded there wasn’t enough room to lie down.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who met with both Hichilema and Lungu, said this month that the two have agreed to talks facilitated by her office. Ibrahim Gambari, Nigeria’s former foreign affairs minister, will probably serve as mediator.

Hichilema said the talks should address the issue why the court had failed to consider his challenge to the election outcome and close legal loopholes that enabled the case to be delayed.

“We expect that in another two weeks, we will have agreed on a structure of how to deal with the challenges we have,” he said. “We need remedies that are implementable so that we can redress the injustices that are going on in our country.”

Mediation attempts may be frustrated by the ongoing detention of opposition supporters and the imposition of emergency measures by the government. Lungu invoked the measures last month after a spate of fires he blamed on his opponents, saying on state TV he aimed to uphold national security and ensure the safety of Zambian citizens — an assertion rejected by Hichilema.

“We have a total breakdown in the rule of law,” he said. “We have constitutional breaches that are being committed. Basic fundamental human rights, liberties, freedoms have been lost.”

Fitch Ratings has warned that a planned $1.3 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund could be delayed amid Zambia’s political uncertainty.