Zambia elections: Opposition calls for televised presidential debate

Lusaka - Zambian opposition, the United Party for National Development (UPND), has called for a political debate on live television between presidential candidates to enable voters to evaluate the contenders in an open and transparent format, Lusaka Times reports.

In a statement, the UPND said that the debate would serve as an opportunity for the presidential candidates to stand on their own merit and not hide behind colleagues or offices of state.

The party added that debates were now an internationally accepted forum of determining a candidate's capacity to articulate an outline of his or her vision, as a candidate who failed to do so could not implement that vision.

UPND also accused the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) of using its influence to put pressure on the media to not cover the opposition.

This came as various independent civic organisations highlighted the huge disparity in media coverage between the two parties, with the UPND receiving mostly negative coverage.

The International Press Institute (IPI) as well as the African Media Initiative (AMI) last week expressed concern over the increasing political interference in the media. 

The UPND said a live debate would give vital transparency to the election process, as candidates would decide for themselves if they wished to vote for change or remain loyal to President Edgar Lungu.

Lungu has in recent times come under heavy criticism for using his position and intimidation tactics to silence the opposition, according to a previous  News24 report.

UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema himself urged Lungu to end his oppressive tendencies, telling him that the world was "closely watching" his actions. 

Hichilema urged Lungu to stop the victimisation of the media, particularly, The Post newspaper, saying it was "unconstitutional". Zambian authorities ordered the closure of the publishing company, Post Newspapers Limited, on June 21, demanding $6.1m in tax arrears.

The closure of The Post came as election campaigning was gaining momentum, with the critically independent newspaper being outspoken in its reporting of illegal activities and corruption by the government.

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