December 6, 2001

ZAMBIA: Tension before elections

Zambian human rights and church groups on Thursday, December 6, questioned the legitimacy of presidential elections, saying the timing of the poll date would disenfranchise many voters. Zambia goes to the polls on December 27, two days after Christmas, to elect a new president, parliament and civic leaders. But in a statement issued in Lusaka, the umbrella Oasis Forum - made up of lawyers, Non-Governmental Organisations and churches - sharply criticised the poll date, which will come at the height of the festivity and rainy season. President Frederick Chiluba will step down at the end of his second and final five-year term after the polls. „The holding of the elections at the height of the rainy season when roads are generally impassable and most rural areas are inaccessible will impact negatively on the voter turnout,“ Oasis Forum said. „Holding elections when most students are on Christmas recess, away from the centres where they had registered as voters is most inappropriate,“ it said.

Meanwhile opposition politicians criticised the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) party for increasing underhand measures and promoting violence to stick to power. Former minister Michael Sata, now leader of the opposition Patriotic Front, reported MMD cadres had attacked his supporters with machetes and clubs in the capital Lusaka and the copperbelt cities of Ndola and Kitwe, wounding scores. Edith Nawakwi, another minister, now vice president of the main opposition Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD), also reported violence against FDD youths in Lusaka and the eastern towns of Chipata and Petauke, considered FDD strongholds. In the beginning of December, the government denied landing rights for a chartered plane carrying FDD president Christon Tembo to the northern town of Mbala, on the Tanzania border, where he had gone to campaign.

A Police spokesman admitted that low-scale violence was rising and urged calm. It was Tembo who, as vice president, led a cabinet revolt against Chiluba's plans to stay in office beyond his constitutional limit of 10 years. Chiluba capitulated but sacked Tembo and a dozen other ministers who opposed him. Tembo and Chiluba's candidate Levy Mwanawasa have emerged as frontrunners in Zambia's most open political contest since independence in 1964. A total of 11 candidates are vying for the presidency in the copper-based southern African nation. (NAMIBIAN)

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