African News

Zambia: Mwanawasa in Trouble

26 September 2006 at 22:31 | 447 views

Zambia’s faith in democracy is being tested by the failure of successive leaders to entrench democratic norms while in office, political analysts and civic organisations said on the eve of the country’s fourth multiparty elections.

There are signs of a growing impatience among the electorate since Zambia emerged from 27 years of one-party rule under founding President Kenneth Kaunda in 1991 and embraced multiparty democracy, because people have yet to taste the fruits of democracy, political analysts said.

Beatrice Mwanda, a resident in the capital, Lusaka, said 15 years of democracy had not changed things much. "When we were voting to remove Kaunda from office, we thought everything would be plain sailing, but it is more of the same. The only difference is that we are having many candidates to choose from in an election, instead of Kaunda standing against a frog or a wheelbarrow ... there are no jobs and no money."

The frog symbolised a ’no’ vote against Kaunda on the ballot paper during one-party rule.

Lee Habasonda, executive director of the Southern African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD), a regional good governance watchdog, said, "We have made a lot of progress in the way we conduct our elections, but it is sad that all our political leaders have been shying away from undertaking fundamental changes, especially in the area of constitutional reforms, to protect their own tenure in office."

According to Habasonda, "We have failed to move forward as a country in terms of democratic governance, because of such behaviour by our leaders."

Nearly 4 million of the 5.5 million eligible voters have registered to cast their ballots in presidential, parliamentary and local government polls on 28 September, held under a set of new and improved voting laws.

For the first time voters will see the use of transparent ballot boxes to allay fears of vote-rigging; finger-printing to tackle voter fraud; a ban on political parties using public money for campaigning purposes; checks aimed at eliminating biased coverage by the state-run media; and a heavier reliance on computer technology for speedier publication of results.

Faxon Nkandu, a veteran journalist and media trainer, said although fair coverage of the opposition could not be completely attained by state-owned media, the emergence of more media organisations since the advent of democracy, such as 30 community radio stations, was providing a myriad of different opinions.

"Overall, the people’s access to information is not as bad as it was in the one-party rule, but we should still strive for more balanced coverage of all parties, especially in the public media, since democracy is all about giving the people the voice to actively participate in governing their country," Nkandu said. "People should be given balanced information, so that they can make informed decisions on all issues affecting them."

ELECTION ON A KNIFE EDGE

Levy Mwanawasa(photo), presidential incumbent and leader of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, is seeking a second and final term of office, although many expect the poll to be as close as the previous election, which saw him scraping into power by a single percentage point. The opposition immediately contested the result in the Supreme Court, but after a prolonged trial the judiciary ruled in favour of Mwanawasa’s party.

Mwanawasa’s closest rival among four other presidential contenders is former cabinet minister and leader of the Patriotic Front party Michael Sata, with businessman Haikande Hichilema of the United Democratic Party a close third.

Despite his messy rise to the presidency, Mwanawasa’s administration has failed to provide a new constitution that would have made electing a president more clear cut, such as a requirement that a presidential candidate win by 50 percent plus one, after eliminating other hopefuls in rounds of voting.

"Our democracy has been a learning process, with a destination that is yet to be seen because we have lamentably failed to have a people-driven constitution, and we have also failed to have a people-driven electoral act," said Bonny Tembo of the Anti-Voter Apathy project, a civic organisation that monitors elections.

"The new electoral act is just enough to cater for this year’s elections, and after that it will be completely useless since it anchors on the old 1996 constitution," Tembo said.

Frederick Chiluba, who succeeded Kenneth Kaunda, removed the 50 plus one requirement for presidential office in 1996 and introduced a citizenship clause barring the founding president from contesting another election because his parents were born in neighbouring Malawi.

Kaunda ruled Zambia for nearly three decades after the country gained independence from Britain in 1964. Chiluba, who has been in and out of court on corruption charges since Mwanawasa assumed office, also enacted a law that banned former presidents from politicking, but recently broke that law by endorsing Sata’s presidential candidature.

"Zambia’s democracy will never bear fruits until we learn to respect the rule of law and institutions of democracy," said Chrispin Matenga, head of development studies at the University of Zambia. "The Judiciary should be allowed to operate independently, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) should not be selective in the manner of prosecuting suspected plunderers, and the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) should carry out its duties without any outside interference. There is so much government interference in these institutions."

Under the Zambian Constitution the president appoints the directors of the ACC and the ECZ as well as High Court judges. Analysts say there is a lack of trust in these institutions because there is no separation of powers.

Credit: IRIN.

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