August 9, 2004

Local elections postponed

Zambia has postponed local elections scheduled for November for two years due to financial problems, arguing that the money would be better spent on roads and hospitals. Parliament endorsed a bill to allow the government to defer the local polls because the 2004 national budget did not provide any funds for holding the nationwide elections, Local Government Minister Sylvia Masebo said. Parliament also ratified the extension of the term of office of mayors and councillors from three to five years, she said. "Democracy in a country like Zambia is very expensive with polling stations and apparatus having to be set up in very remote areas", she added.

According to her, apart from the financial crunch, the postponement was partly due to the fact that the three-year term of office for councillors and mayors was too short for them to initiate and implement various projects in their communities. "The government does not have money to hold the local government elections this year and again fund the 2006 presidential elections," Masebo explained. The local elections were expected to cost 300 billion kwacha (about US$ 64 million), which could be used to fund hospitals and maintain roads. It would be cheaper to hold the local government, parliamentary and presidential elections at the same time in 2006," she added. Masebo said the tenure for mayors and councillors had now been extended even for future elections from three to five years. The minister said her government also considered that a three-year term of office was short for any elected official to provide meaningful developments.

Opposition Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata accused the government of deliberately putting off the local elections because the ruling party was losing its grip in strongholds. "They are merely trying to avoid going to the elections because their party is still in disarray," Sata claimed. But according to Masebo, the proposal not to hold the local polls this year was actually suggested by some opposition parties who felt that it would be costly even for them to finance campaigns. "If at all, the opposition have done badly in several local government by-elections that have taken place in the last three years," Masebo said. (Vanguard, Lagos / The Times of Zambia, Ndola) <

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