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a state of emergency has been declared in Zambia

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President Edgar Lungu

President Edgar Lungu of Zambia

The Zambian parliament has passed a 90-day state of emergency decreed by President Edgar Lungu, throwing the nation into further uncertainty.

The decree was passed by lawmakers of the ruling Patriotic Front, with present legislators from the opposition United Party for National Development opting to boycott the vote on Tuesday.

A further 48 legislators from the UPND couldn’t attend the vote as they are still serving a one-month suspension for refusing to attend Pres. Lungu’s parliamentary address early this year.

The invocation of full emergency powers, as sanctioned by Article 30 of the Zambian constitution, is an escalation of the decree invoked last week, in which President Lungu had used Article 31 to grant the Executive some emergency powers.

As with last week’s decree, the State of Emergency has been declared due to what the government claims to be coordinated “fire outbreaks and vandalism of strategic installations” which allegedly aim to make Zambia ungovernable.

This cause has been rubbished as a mere pretext in some quarters.

“This is a clear sign of dictatorship- just because of a fire at a market you declare a state of emergency?” wondered Bishop Simon Chihana, the head of the International Fellowship of Christian Churches.

The opposition also denounced the move.

“It is clear that [President Lungu’s] actions are premeditated and designed to strengthen the hand of the dictatorship,” said Geoffrey Mwamba, the deputy leader of the UPND.

With the leader of the UPND currently in a maximum-security prison over accusations of treason, the declaration of a state of emergency is a worrying turn of events in the nation, as precedents show that it can be easily used to subdue the opposition.

Zambia was under a state of emergency for the first 27 years after its independence; Kenneth Kaunda, the president, used the emergency powers inherited from the colonial era to stifle all political dissent, ultimately banning all other political parties just four years after independence.

Kenneth Kaunda got a taste of emergency powers when his successor after the restoration of multiparty politics, President Frederick Chiluba, had him arrested under emergency powers following an attempted coup in 1997. Kaunda was released from jail but placed under house arrest.

He was released and later retired from politics.