Zambia's Future-After Its Elections

By Taylor, Ian | Contemporary Review, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Zambia's Future-After Its Elections


Taylor, Ian, Contemporary Review


ZAMBIA is a landlocked and sparsely populated country, with ten million people, made up of more than seventy ethnic groups, living in an area the size of France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland combined. At independence from Britain in 1964 the country (formerly Northern Rhodesia) was the third largest copper producer, after the United States and the Soviet Union. However, with world copper prices collapsing in the mid-1970s, the economy was devastated. This, combined with maladministration under the country's first president, Kenneth Kaunda, who ruled from independence until 1991, has meant that Zambia is now one of the poorest countries in the world.

After Kaunda was forced out by popular pressure and a rare democratic election (the first in twenty years or so), Frederick Chiluba took over. Whilst Chiluba pushed through a wholesale privatisation scheme, corruption and mismanagement continued to bedevil Zambia. Chiluba was frustrated by popular pressure in running for an unconstitutional third term and under intense pressure, shelved his plans. Instead there was a different candidate in the elections which took place on the 27th of December 2001.

When Zambia went to the polling booths in presidential and parliamentary elections, it was the most closely fought presidential race since Zambia's independence in 1964. Levy Mwanawasa of the incumbent Movement for Multiparty Democracy's (MMD) emerged, after chaotic vote counting, as Zambia's new president. The elections mark a major triumph for the previous president, Frederick Chiluba, as it is now widely perceived in Zambia that Mwanawasa is a handpicked puppet of Chiluba's and that business may very well carry on 'as usual'. If this is so, then Zambia's post-independence decline may very well continue.

As in previous elections in Zambia, this one was once again marked by widespread allegations of vote rigging and political interference in the electoral process. Even the Southern African Development Community (an organisation noted for its timidity in facing up to undemocratic procedures in the region), which had sent a 34-man team to observe the polls, said that the MMD's utilisation of public funds in campaigning, and state-controlled media bias, distorted the playing field in favour of the ruling party. The European Union's election observers also claimed that the elections were characterised by voting irregularities and mismanagement. Chaos surrounding voter registration effectively disenfranchised thousands of intending voters across the country, whilst mysterious extra voters appeared on the voting rolls in some constituencies. Mwanawasa was sworn in as Zambia's third president only after the high court in Lusaka rejected an application by opposition parties to postpone the declaration of the contested election result. Although Judge Peter Chitenge said that the claim that the elections were fraudulent appeared to have some merit, he rejected a request for a recount and inquiry into irregularities, on the grounds that the application was 'premature'. The election's results had to stand as, according to Chitenge, the constitution did not permit a presidential election to be challenged until two weeks after the winner was announced. In the meantime, Mwanawasa was sworn in.

Whilst Mwanawasa has been declared president, the MMD is actually in a minority in parliament, according to the official voting figures, making Mwanawasa's presidency looking very shaky indeed. The MMD got a total of 69 parliamentary seats whilst the total number of seats that the various opposition parties (plus one independent) got was 81. President Mwanawasa is constitutionally permitted to nominate eight members of parliament, but even with this the MMD still falls short by four seats to equal the opposition. It is thus likely that the new government will have a tough time passing legislation through the National Assembly. …

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