Zambia’s parliament has on Tuesday approved the three-month state of emergency invoked by president Edgar Lungu last week after fire engulfed Lusaka’s biggest market.
85 members of parliament out of 118 voted in favour of the state of emergency, 34 exempted themselves from voting and none voted against it.
The main opposition party United Party for National Development (UPND) has strongly opposed the state of emergency saying the security services are not equipped to enforce the law.
UPND’s 47 members of parliament could not vote on the state of emergency due to the 30-day suspension they are serving for boycotting President Edgar Lungu’s address to parliament in March.
This is not an easy decision to make, but in order to preserve peace, tranquillity, safety of our citizens and national security, we had no choice but to take this decision given the events that have occurred in the recent past.
President Lungu invoked a constitutional clause last week in response to the recent market fires suspected to have been deliberately sparked by arsonists.
“This is not an easy decision to make, but in order to preserve peace, tranquillity, safety of our citizens and national security, we had no choice but to take this decision given the events that have occurred in the recent past,” he said.
“We have repeatedly advised our nationals to desist from any irresponsible behaviour and criminality but it would appear that this has fallen on deaf ears. Therefore, practical measures as outlined tonight have had to be invoked,” he said while calling on the members of parliament to support the decision.
His declaration was opposed by civil society groups and opposition parties who said it was too early to make that call.
According to the group Civil Society Constitutional Agenda, the intention of the president is “totally misplaced and a knee jerk reaction to an incident that has not even been investigated”.
The chairperson of the Zambia-based group John Mambo said in a statement that arson is not a good reason to declare a state of emergency and the police is not adequately prepared to handle emergency situations.
“We would like to further remind the President that suspending any of our fundamental freedoms is essentially suspending our dignity and humanity,” the statement added.
The opposition Green Party also said a state of emergency is “violent response to violence”.
Its leader, Peter Sinkamba explained in a statement that the measure will rather increase tensions and divisions in the country as well as deprive citizens of their constitutional rights.
President Lungu however assured the public that “all law abiding citizens will not be impacted by this decision and should continue to go about their daily routines normally”.