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AS the Choma Magistrate Court granted a K10, 000 each and two working sureties bail to Ackson Sejani, Fines Malambo, Vincent Lilanda, Javan Simoloka, and Senior Chief Mukuni’s wife Veronica who were detained for the offence of abduction and intent to confine Pheluna and Milton Hatembo siblings.

Although, the UPND quintet was jointly charged for the offence of abduction but granted more breathing space in the pending trial, observers analysed what this might mean for Zambia’s forthcoming general elections. The protracted abduction case of the Hatembo siblings will not only determine Zambia’s likely next president, but will also be the toughest of tests yet for the country’s developing democracy and for the UPND Alliance’s already paper-thin unity.

Meanwhile, the FDD president, Ms Edith Nawakwi scoffed at Pheluna and Milton Hatembo’s accusation that she wanted to kill them. Reacting to a video that had gone viral on social media in which the Hatembos had accused her of planning to kill them, she denied the allegation. She challenged the Hatembo siblings to come out in the open for the sake of their children. She also disclosed that she was keeping Pheluna’s children who had stopped eating and were dehydrated because they were missing their mother.

She had asked the alleged abductors to free the Hatembos adding that she was happy to see them on video still alive. Besides, the FDD leader complained that it was nonsense for UPND to accuse her of trying to kill Pheluna and Milton Hatembo, who had been abducted. Speaking at a media briefing in Lusaka, Ms Nawakwi exonerated herself that it was evident that some UPND members were the ones who were involved in the abduction of the duo who then wanted to spin the matter and accuse her of being behind an illegality she was not involved in.

By extension, UPND president Hakainde Hichilema’s political future would very much be determined by the outcome of the Hatembos’ abduction trial since he had vowed that he would file his nominations between the 10th and 14th of this month, and be on the ballot paper for the upcoming elections, whether the PF liked it or not. Unless he stumbles over his mountain of legal challenges, he would be the UPND’s presidential candidate for the general elections scheduled for August 12 this year.

Predictably though, UPND spokesperson Cornelius Mweetwa who doubles as the legal representative in courts for the accused Ackson Sejani and others in the Hatembo matter claimed that lack of funding from European Union (EU) countries had led the FDD leader to auction herself to the ruling party. But in stark contrast during her press briefing, the FDD leader insisted that the UPND president was behind the “disappearance” of Pheluna and her sibling for previously reclaiming their family farm land from Hichilema in the High Court, and further predicted that the UPND leader would be arrested on the day of filing presidential nominations papers. The country’s Judiciary which presided over a court case in which the Hatembos were the key witnesses concerning the UPND leader who was accused to have fraudulently acquired farm number 1924 located in Kalomo – did not conclusively resolve the judicial process of appeal due to the disappearance of the two Hatembo siblings midway.

 The court decision would have to be conclusively made before the end of this month’s election nomination process which would determine the UPND’s presidential, parliamentary and local government candidates for this year’s upcoming elections. If the Hatembos’ abduction case is heard before then and Mr Hichilema together with Ackson Sejani and others are convicted, the UPND would have to call a special emergency national conference to elect a replacement presidential candidate.

However, the case may now only start or even go on until after the 10th to the 14th of this month coinciding with the election nomination programme. This would not only prolong the country’s political and economic uncertainty and judicial paralysis, the decision over what to do with a major opposition party president facing a long trial may deepen divisions within the UPND and hurt its electoral fortunes.

Mr Hichilema and his supporters want all the Hatembos’ abduction charges to be dropped, claiming that it is part of a political conspiracy to prevent him from becoming Zambia’s next president. Yet, the Ackson Sejani and others charge sheet has little to do with politics.

Indeed, Mr Hichilema is in a prickly situation – he has already exhausted all legal channels to dismiss the Hatembos’ abduction trial, including the habeas corpus appeal to the High Court for hitherto detained Ackson Sejani and others. Yet UPND supporters plan another series of public demonstrations, protests and solidarity marches to take place throughout the Ackson Sejani and others court case seen and heard during the time when the UPND president was warned and cautioned for the offence of conspiracy to defraud at Police headquarters that led to the execution-style killing of two innocent citizens.

This is likely to raise political temperatures higher, and create more political and socio-economic uncertainty. Already the FDD and UPND shenanigans have helped slow down socio-economic growth. Certainly, it does not help that the presidential candidate of the UPND for this year’s election is its president, Mr Hichilema – a man who was himself warned and cautioned for the offence of conspiracy to defraud on issues related to the farms deals.

How and why did the UPND lose its innocence? Why is the opposition party trampling on its moral compass by fielding Mr Hichilema as its presidential candidate? Why are they soiling the memory of fallen national founding fathers and the image of the country in this manner? The answer is simple. They know that the electoral damage they are going to suffer is probably limited.

In short, they are confident that the political reality of balkanised regional party dominance and an electoral system that allows citizens to elect directly their head of State based on ethnicity shields the UPND from adverse political consequences.

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