October 4, 2002

Chiluba Urged to Admit Vote Rigging

Boldly proclaiming a decisive and historic battle against corruption, the Zambian government is locked in a bitter struggle with most of the Cabinet it replaced in January. However, the way the government is going about its anti-corruption campaign has raised questions of whether it is not an old-fashioned power struggle instead.

Michael Sata, a powerful minister during Frederick Chiluba's presidency and now an opposition party leader, publicly urged Chiluba to testify to the Supreme Court that he rigged the December 2001 presidential election to ensure the victory of the current president, Patrick Levy Mwanawasa. Mwanawasa, of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), wants Chiluba prosecuted for alleged massive embezzlement during his time in office and in a bid to stop him, Chiluba may indeed testify, increasing the chances that the Supreme Court will annul the election result and order a fresh poll.

Sata wants Chiluba to testify in the case brought by three losing candidates in the 2001 presidential election for the results to be overturned. Anderson Mazoka of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) officially lost to Mwanawasa by only 34000 votes, but it is widely believed that he would have won but for systematic rigging by the MMD.

In September Mazoka testified that at least 42-billion kwacha (about R100-million) of state money was disbursed to MMD campaign managers before the election, chiefs were paid extra to deliver their subjects' votes to the MMD, and that polling stations were deliberately closed early in areas where Mazoka enjoys strong support. Even more damning were the revelations of Michael Meadowcroft, who headed the European Union's observer mission to the elections. Meadowcroft spelled out to the court in detail a range of abuses, including blatant party political campaigning by state officials, to explain why he considered the election result to be "unsafe".

Mwanawasa has promised that if the court rules the poll unfair he will stand down and seek re-election, but has also assured supporters that he will keep the presidency. A few days ago he denounced a "plot" between Chiluba and Mazoka to derail his presidency through the court case and Mazoka retorted that Mwanawasa was trying to intimidate potential witnesses. The case meanwhile has been adjourned until mid-November. Mwanawasa must decide by then whether to avert the risk Chiluba's testimony poses to his presidency by abandoning his bid to have Chiluba prosecuted for corruption.

After an earlier appeal from Mwanawasa, Parliament lifted Chiluba's immunity from prosecution in July, but the former president appealed to the high court to halt the lifting, claiming it was unconstitutional. The high court has since ruled against this, but Chiluba has appealed to the Supreme Court to reverse the ruling. While the courts prepare to adjudicate between the battling political factions, Mwanawasa has ordered action against other prominent Chiluba-supporters, who are accused of corruption. "The law will visit them" has become Mwanawasa's catch-phrase and the police and drugs squad recently raided the homes of, among others, Chiluba's former spokesperson Richard Sakala, former information minister Vernon Mwaanga, and Mike Zulu, who organised Chiluba's failed bid for a third term in office last year.

Controversially, Sakala remains in detention, accused of vehicle theft, which is a non-bailable offence. The same goes for Chiluba's intelligence chief Xavier Chungu, who was rearrested in September after being earlier released on a technicality, for allegedly trying to flee the country. Whether Chungu really tried to escape is unclear, since his lawyers were denied permission to cross-examine the South African pilot whom the state claims tried to fly Chungu out of the country.

Such tactics are causing commentators, including donors, to worry whether Mwanawasa's much touted anti-corruption campaign is just a moral gloss on his determined efforts to rid himself of all those who owe their positions to his predecessor, and replace them with those who owe everything to him instead.

So far Mwanawasa has not been forced to reveal his hand, choosing between exposing corruption and defending a key ally. However, last month the president blocked a bid by Parliament to investigate hefty donations given by his wife in areas facing by-elections on the flimsy grounds that she is not a state employee.

Zambians should discover later this year whether their judiciary can rise to the challenges of the presidential petition and the lifting of Chiluba's immunity of prosecution. Meanwhile, Mwanawasa's increasingly controversial anti-corruption drive looks set to continue. (MAIL&GUARDIAN)


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