August 14, 2003

Impeachment motion defeated

A motion to impeach Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa on charges of graft, nepotism and violating the constitution, was tossed out of parliament on Wednesday, August 13. Despite a spirited fight by the opposition, the motion's defeat was inevitable, failing by 92 votes to 57, and effectively bringing to an end attempts to use parliamentary procedure to unseat Mwanawasa.

Even though the motion was thrown out, some analysts suggested it had served the opposition's purpose, as it had damaged Mwanawasa's reputation as an anti-corruption crusader following allegations made in parliament that he too had been involved in graft. Perhaps the most damaging testimony in the impeachment debate came from the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) deputy party leader, Enoch Kavindele, who, until his sacking in June for involvement in an irregular crude oil contract, had been Zambia's vice-president.

Kavindele received cheers from the opposition and jeers from his own party when he alleged that Mwanawasa had pocketed up to US $60,000 meant for the party, and had awarded a named personal friend a tender to import 30,000 mt of maize at an inflated price.

But MMD chief whip Eric Silwamba, said the law that allows for impeachment ought to be revisited because it was bound to be abused by disgruntled legislators with an axe to grind. "Some of the issues that have been raised in the impeachment motion do not warrant being there ... that is why we are going to throw out this motion, not only because we evidently have the numbers, but because this motion lacks merit," Silwamba said amid MMD cheers.

Zambia's parliament has 159 members, including the Speaker of the House who is supposed to be neutral. The president has the power to nominate eight non-voting legislators. In order to compel the Speaker to place an impeachment motion on the table, the opposition needed 53 signatures. To move the motion to the second and more serious stage of a Supreme Court tribunal, they needed the support of two-thirds of legislators.

In 2001 the four parliamentary opposition parties had a majority of 81 MPs against the MMD's 69. This year, in what some analysts said was a clear attempt to divide the opposition, and punish dissidents within his own party furious at his anti-corruption drive, Mwanawasa appointed nine opposition lawmakers to his cabinet.

On Tuesday the opposition legislators, calling themselves the Inter-parliamentary Caucus on the Defence of the Constitution and Good Governance, presented the Speaker with a six-page motion containing 25 allegations against Mwanawasa. Chief among the charges was that Mwanawasa violated the constitution when he appointed the Reverend Nevers Mumba, an opposition leader who failed in the 2001 presidential elections, as vice-president after Kavindele was sacked. "The laws of Zambia do not allow a person who lost an election ... [to take] up such a position. The president has poached nine opposition members from the opposition and appointed them to cabinet positions - again against the law," chief whip Crispin Sibetta of the opposition United Party for National Development told the highly charged house on Tuesday.

But Mwanawasa has won kudos from some political watchers, who have applauded him for letting the impeachment process proceed. "In Africa, presidents interfere with all arms of the government - the judiciary, the legislator and even civil society... If Mwanawasa wanted, he would have used his 'African' leadership skills to stop the motion, but he didn't, which I think is a plus," political analyst Mulenga Chanda told IRIN. However, government critic Ngande Mwanajiti, of the Inter Africa Network for Human Rights and Development (AFRONET), said the charges levelled against Mwanawasa were grave and deserved a better hearing. "Parliamentarians are there to serve people and not an individual ... if the president violated the constitution, they should have put their partisan views aside, and voted for the better good."

Meanwhile, Mwanawasa still faces a Supreme Court petition over the results of the 2001 presidential elections, in which the opposition declared his victory illegal. (IRIN)

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