SAR, Vol 15 No 1, December 1999
THE THIRD TERM TEMPTATION
BY JOTHAM C. MOMBA
Dr. Momba teaches in the Department of Political Science at the University of Zambia
Zambia will enter the next millennium without the same ebullience that characterized the coming to power of the ruling party, the Movement for the Multi-party Democracy (MMD), and its promises of democracy, good governance and economic prosperity. Zambia had one of the first multi-party governments in Africa and was hailed as a leader on the continent. Despite this euphoria and rhetoric, however, the democratization process has not been the success it promised.
Although the next elections are still two years away, political manoeuvring in preparation has already begun in earnest. The current constitution bars the two main contenders - current President Chiluba and former President Kaunda - from running. On several occasions in the previous months, Chiluba has maintained that he will not attempt to seek a third term, saying that to change the constitution to allow it would undermine development and the democratic process in the country. As late as September this year he told a journalist in Libya that Zambia's democracy "is based on the constitution, which must be respected and abided by. Leaders must not stay too long because they can run out of ideas at a certain stage."
However, Chiluba's possible candidacy is now being actively discussed. In a style reminiscent of United National Independence Party (UNIP) tactics under Kaunda, the youth wing of the party has demanded in the past few months that the constitution be amended to allow Chiluba to run for a third term. Chiluba's response has been to publicly welcome the debate as "part of plural politics" and "healthy in a democracy." That reaction merely intensified the demand and it is a move that may succeed.
The idea of amending the Constitution to accommodate a possible third term for Chiluba has been condemned by a number of opposition parties, human rights organizations and monitoring groups. One opposition official suggested that amending the constitution to allow Chiluba to run for a third term could bring conflicts such as those witnessed in countries like Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Somalia. However, as the 2001 election approaches, all that could change.
Political process from the 1991 to the 1996 elections
Misgivings about the MMD's commitment to democracy began shortly after its election in 1991. It was criticized for the way it treated opposition leaders, particularly the former president, Kenneth Kaunda, the way it ran elections, its reluctance to undertake constitutional and legal reforms and other practices.
Criticism was strongest when the Zambian leadership inserted clauses in the 1996 Constitution that put restrictions on who could run for the presidency. Although the MMD leadership denied the charge, the general view from within and outside the country was that the restrictive clauses were aimed at Kaunda. According to the proposed constitutional changes, only persons whose both parents were Zambians by birth would be eligible to contest the presidency and anybody who had twice been elected President of Zambia would not be eligible for re-election. The two provisions eliminated Kaunda from the presidential race.
Kaunda's party, UNIP, other opposition parties and several non-governmental organizations rejected the two provisions. Several donor countries, among them the United States, Japan, and Britain raised serious concerns about the amendment and threatened to withhold aid to the country.
Besides the manipulation of the constitution, the structures established to run the elections together with the way the electoral process had been managed were also sources of conflict. The opposition parties and several NGOs objected to placing the election office under the control of the Vice-President. Even the 1995 Constitutional Review Commission alluded to the inappropriateness of this decision, saying that "the whole outcome of the elections may be prejudiced." The government subsequently gave in. However, even after this concession, there were further disputes. Opposition leaders alleged that the election Commissioners would not be impartial because they were members of the ruling party.
The opposition parties and a number of civic organizations also objected to the way the 1996 elections were managed. The major disagreement was over the decision to award a contract to an Israeli company, NIKUV Computers, to undertake the registration of voters, a task that had been carried out by the elections office in previous elections. The opposition parties charged that the company was hired to rig the elections. Several political parties, including the former ruling party, unsuccessfully took the matter to Court.
The absence of an "even" playing field also adversely affected the 1996 elections. Most important was the unequal access to resources and the extent to which the government leaders, including Chiluba, used state resources to their advantage. In 1991, MMD had campaigned to eliminate UNIP's unfair access to state resources in those elections. However, once in power, the MMD never addressed itself to the issue. Their use of state resources was most evident during the 1996 elections. Besides the use of state vehicles, and aircraft in the case of Chiluba, government leaders began a series of donations to schools, community projects and charitable organizations and other causes as the campaigns progressed.
Perhaps the most outstanding example of misuse of state resources was the Cabinet decision to order the municipal councils to sell their houses to sitting tenants. Most of the houses were sold below their market value. Houses that had been valued at K4 million (US$3,082) were slashed to K920,000 (US$709) following presidential directives. The cabinet also decided that houses built before 1958 should be given away for free. Sitting tenants were only required to pay the legal fee of K23,750 ($17.50).
As in previous elections, the state's ownership of the mass media was again an issue. Opposition parties have accused the government-owned media of bias towards the ruling party, especially during elections, which has led since 1992 to calls for the privatization of the media. Journalists, civic organizations, politicians and some outsiders - such as a group of British parliamentarians who visited Zambia in 1993 - failed to move the MMD away from state ownership of the Times of Zambia, the Zambia Daily Mail and the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC). This was despite the government's strong commitment to the principle of privatization in general. Thus the state has continued to control both electronic and print media, giving the MMD a virtual monopoly access to the media.
Chiluba himself admitted that this constituted a problem during the 1996 elections and promised that "subject to availability of funds, the electoral commission may arrange for some broadcasting for media space at its own cost, to allocate equally to all political parties taking part in the elections." However, the state media continued to give extensive and positive coverage to the ruling party and scant and mostly negative coverage to the opposition parties. Analysis of coverage by the ZNBC and the two government-owned dailies, made by the Committee for a Clean Campaign (CCC) during the 1996 elections, established extensive bias in favour of the government.
All these factors led UNIP and several smaller parties to boycott the 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections. This more than any other factor contributed to the discrediting of the elections. Several international organizations declined to take part in official observation of the elections, and four local monitoring groups declared the elections were not free and fair. Almost all commentators on these elections have been very negative.
With Chiluba's commitment to democratic processes very much in question, a number of factors may influence the further amendment of the constitution to allow him to run again. For the MMD, there is no obvious successor to Chiluba. The Party's vice president is not the country's vice-president. This situation has created two leaders who can claim to be the logical successor to Chiluba. But perhaps more importantly, there is no leader within the party who is widely regarded as Chiluba's successor. This situation has created apprehension among some MMD leaders, especially those without presidential ambitions. Pressure on Chiluba to go for a third term could intensify rather than diminish in the coming months before the elections.
Added to this is the fact that MMD's retaining power in 2001 is not as assured as it was in 1991 and 1996. And the possibility of defeat is even higher if Chiluba does not run and the party fails to unite behind an alternative. MMD faces a challenge from a new political party, the United Party for National Development (UPND). Formed on December 23 1998, UPND is quickly establishing itself as a serious contender, and is encroaching on some of the areas that were traditionally MMD strongholds. The party managed to win a number of seats in the local government elections that took place on December 30, 1998. It is the only party besides MMD and UNIP that controls a Distinct Council. Several by-elections have indicated that it has significant support throughout the country, especially in the Southern, North-western and some parts of Central Provinces and the rural areas of the Copperbelt Provinces. MMD's political control of the Southern Province, which was one of the main strongholds of the ruling party, is slowly being lost to the UPND.
MMD's dominance of the Northern Province is seriously challenged by UNIP, judging from the results of several local government by-elections. UNIP is firmly entrenched in the Eastern province and some parts of Lusaka province. The newly formed Zambia Alliance for Progress, formed out the alliance of several smaller parties with the runner up in the 1996 elections, Dean Mung'omba, as one its leaders, is also likely to make claims to some areas in the Northern Province. This leaves MMD with only Luapula and Copperbelt provinces where they are sure of doing well in the 2001 elections.
The Monitor could not have been far from the point, therefore, when it alleged that the party leadership was behind the campaign by the MMD Youths to have the constitution amended. UNIP has alleged that Chiluba himself was personally behind the call. Nonetheless, there remain factors that mitigate against Chiluba's candidacy. One problem is how to ensure that Chiluba can contest the elections without losing face in light of his public statements about leaders who want to stay in power forever (specifically Kaunda) and his posturing as a defender of democracy.
Furthermore, MMD must figure out how to ensure that they can stop Kaunda from running while allowing Chiluba to contest. UNIP is the main opposition party, and if Kaunda wins his appeal at the Supreme Court against a lower court ruling that he is not a Zambian since he did not follow the right procedures to renounce his Malawian citizenship, any change that will enable Chiluba to run again will have the same effect for Kaunda. Unsurprisingly, UNIP may very well be supportive of a constitutional change. The clearest indication of UNIP's position was given by the Party's Secretary for Information and Publicity when he urged the MMD government to "stand by its promise to the Paris Club" that it would amend the Constitution to remove discriminatory clauses that restrict the choice of presidential candidates.
Whichever decision is made regarding a third term for the president will have great impact on Zambia's politics in the next few years. Should he decide not to contest, Chiluba will have set an important political precedent that future presidents may find difficult to ignore. Such a decision would enhance respect for democratic institutions, and bolster Chiluba's claim to be committed to democracy. Furthermore, his departure is likely to open the electoral process to real competition, both within his own party and in the country at large.
If the constitution is amended, however, it will make a mockery of the constitution itself. Such an amendment would set the stage for introducing all kinds of devices or manipulations of the constitution to guarantee future electoral results.
On November 4 1999, as SAR was going to press, Kaunda's son, Wezi Kaunda, was shot and killed, ostensibly by carjackers. It was the second killing of a high profile opposition figure in 18 months. Business Day (November 5 1999) reported speculations that Kaunda's death had been inspired by a power struggle within UNIP regarding the continuation of his father as leader. A UNIP spokesperson, however, accused the government of assassinating Kaunda. Kenneth Kaunda survived a similar attack last April. A report in the Mail and Guardian (November 5 1999) gave more credence to the latter possibility. It suggested that Kaunda might have been killed to prevent a coup against Chiluba orchestrated by Angolan and Zimbabwean interests in the region. Chiluba's regime had been condemned by the Angolan government at the United Nations for allowing military assistance and logistical supplies destined for UNITA to pass through their territory. Zambia has also long served as a diamond trading centre for UNITA. Wezi Kaunda, a former army major, had allegedly been training guerillas inside Angolan territory in preparation to oust Chiluba. What impact this assassination and the growing tensions in the region will have on the upcoming Zambian elections is not yet clear, but certainly may inspire Chiluba to strengthen his hold on the Presidency.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.