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, told IRIN.

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)


URL: http://www.sadocc.at/news2002/2002-001.shtml
Copyright © 2018 SADOCC - Southern Africa Documentation and Cooperation Centre.
Rechtliche Hinweise / Legal notice