Livingstone residents have been angered by mobile phone SMS alerts carrying campaign messages for the ruling Patriotic Front candidate Lawrence Evans ahead of the February 28 parliamentary by-election.
The two by-elections, taking place in both Livingstone and Mpongwe, are viewed as crucial for the ruling party, who are seeking to achieve a parliamentary majority. The high stakes contest have unleashed high levels of campaign spending by the government and no shortage of paid youth cadres, advertisements, and frequent text messaging.
A senior manager at Airtel Livingstone office confirmed the SMS messages promoting the PF candidate are originating from an dummy number sent from the Lusaka office.
Airtel subscribers in Livingstone have been receiving SMS on their handsets written in English and various local languages asking them to vote for PF.
One message which was sent to a resident read, "Did you know that your vote for PF candidate Lawrence Evans on 28 February 2013 by-election is the only key to develop Livingstone central? Thank you."
The residents complained that they never subscribed to receive the messages which they said sometimes come at awkward hours in the night, causing annoyance and frustration.
"First of all, why are they sending the messages to people of Livingstone only and how do they know that these numbers belong to Livingstone residents? This goes to show that Airtel is now being controlled by the PF government. I'm sure this is why they wanted people to register their sim-cards so that they can be sending propaganda messages to citizens," said Mbololwa Simasiku of Dambwa North.
And another resident Peter Hamududu said he would not vote for PF because he had been frustrated by the SMSs.
"I strongly believe that the PF candidate could be a better man for Livingstone Central but I did not need to be forced by these SMSs, I can decide on my own. And I also don't like the fact that the PF is taking advantage of other parties like UPND and MMD who do not have the privileges of using services provided by mobile phone operators," he said.
And asked to explain the origin of the messages, an manager at Livingstone Airtel office said Allied Mobile communications which operates Airtel shops was not responsible.
"This here is a just like a sales office, there is nothing technical that happens here. We have had so many people coming here to complain about the same SMSs but I can guarantee you that the SMSs are coming from Airtel head office in Lusaka, ask them, they should be able to explain," said a senior manager who sought anonymity.