Zambia Suspends Election Rallies as Covid-19 Cases Surge

Zambia’s electoral body suspended campaign rallies before an Aug. 12 election, as daily new confirmed coronavirus cases surged in the southern African nation.

Political parties should use alternative methods of campaigning that avoid crowds, Electoral Commission of Zambia Chief Electoral Officer Kryticous Nshindano said Thursday in comments broadcast on privately owned Diamond TV. The election will go ahead as planned unless a state of emergency is declared, he said.

The suspension of rallies will add to tensions before voting that will probably be another close contest between President Edgar Lungu and his main challenger, Hakainde Hichilema, who narrowly lost in the last two elections. The biggest opposition, the United Party for National Development, last month accused Lungu of using the pandemic to effectively block it from campaigning.

Zambia, Africa’s first pandemic-era sovereign default, is experiencing its third wave of coronavirus infections and recorded 825 new cases in the past 24 hours, up from 149 on May 24. The country has cumulatively recorded 97,388 cases and 1,288 deaths.

While kicking off his re-election bid, Lungu last month ordered police to ensure political parties follow health guidelines and said competitors should avoid public gatherings so that Zambia avoids a situation like in India, where campaign rallies accelerated the spread of the pandemic.

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