|2 Jan 2002
ZAMBIA: New president sworn in amid protests
Zambia's third president Levy Mwanawasa of the ruling Movement of
Multiparty Democracy (MMD) was sworn in on Wednesday, Jan 2, in a low-key
ceremony marked by sporadic anti-government protests, an opposition electoral
petition and a growing rift between the government and western donors.
Chief Justice Mathew Ngulube swore in Mwanawasa - who scooped a paltry
28.6 percent of 1.75 million votes cast - in a ceremony characterised by tight
security and the conspicuous absence of the six regional heads of state who had
been invited to attend.
The government invited the leaders of South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe,
Malawi, Mauritius, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Swaziland to
grace the occasion. None of them showed up. Only the DRC, Malawi and Zimbabwe
sent government ministers to represent their heads of state.
"This may be indicative of a general reluctance by regional leaders to
give the process legitimacy," an African diplomat who asked not to be named,
Most local and foreign groups which monitored the elections, including
Afronet, the European Union, the Carter Centre, and the Southern African
Development community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum, have said that pre-election
manipulation of the process and administrative hitches had distorted the
political playing field in favour of the ruling party.
They said the MMD's abuse of public resources in campaigning, and state
media bias, gave the party an unfair advantage in the run-up to voting, while
logistical and administrative shortcomings disenfranchised thousands of people
across the country. Some local groups charged that the widespread confusion
which marked the polls was deliberately engineered to disenfranchise voters in
areas that were seen to be predominantly supportive of the opposition.
However, Mwanawasa dismissed the findings of the monitoring groups and
accused western diplomats who questioned the integrity of the polls of trying
to create anarchy in the country.
"Why did the European Union fund the elections, knowing fully well that
the playing field was uneven? Only when their chosen political party was losing
did they start saying the playing field was not even. They are promoting
anarchy in this country. I am here today because it is the will of the people,"
he said, adding that the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) was to be
commended for conducting "such a successful election".
Political observers said the president's words could further strain the
already uneasy relations between Zambia and western donors. "It smacks of
ingratitude. It is a bit like eating food and criticising it with the same
mouth at the same time," the African diplomat said.
The European Union put up most of the funds to host the elections and
was officially invited by former president Frederick Chiluba's government to
monitor the polls. Zambia has a special interest in maintaining cordial
relations with western governments: western donors fund around half of the
national budget. However, relations between them soured somewhat in the run-up
to the elections, when Chiluba and other senior government officials accused
them of secretly funding the opposition's electoral campaign.
Mwanawasa said his government would not condone plans by the opposition
to persuade Zambians to reject the outcome of the elections. "They are putting
this country in chaos. They are bringing despondency. If anyone transgresses
the law, the law will visit them," Mwanawasa said of opposition leaders who
earlier in the day applied for a High Court order to defer the inauguration
until their concerns were addressed.
The United Party for National Development (UPND), Forum for Democracy
and Development (FDD), Zambia Republican Party (ZRP), National Citizens
Coalition (NCC) and Patriotic Front (PP) wanted the High Court to delay the
ceremony, claiming that the MMD had rigged the elections. However, Judge Peter
Chitenge dismissed the petition as premature. He pointed out that Zambian law
stipulated that electoral petitions could only be filed after the winning
candidate was sworn in.
Independent political observers said that while the court's ruling was
legally correct, it did not address the central political problem facing the
country. "Political problems require political solutions. This is a political
problem and cannot be addressed from a legal approach unless the court system
is versatile. Unfortunately, our judiciary is very conservative," Ngande
Mwanajiti, head of the Inter-African Network for Human Rights and Development
(Afronet), told IRIN.
Meanwhile, thousands of Lusaka residents, who voted overwhelmingly for
the opposition, expressed their frustration on Wednesday by fighting pitched
battles with riot police.
The police broke up a demonstration they planned to disrupt the
inauguration ceremony. Most shop owners and offices in the central business
district closed for fear of rioting. Police used teargas to break up
free-for-all clashes between opposition and ruling party supporters in the
city's high-density neighbourhoods. Several people have been reported wounded,
some of them seriously, in the political violence that has followed the
elections, and analysts fear that the violence will persist unless an amicable
resolution to oppositions concerns is reached.
THE University of Zambia (UNZA) has been closed indefinitely. But
University of Zambia Students'
Union (UNZASU) president Kelvin Hambwezya has described the closure as
illegal and urged the students not to move out of campus as requested by the
University Council. However, most students
are still away in their homes on a two-week mid-semester break which was
expected to end next Sunday. (IRIN, The Post)