Electoral Stalemate

Zambia Elections
Demonstrators demanding Zambia's Supreme Court call for new elections clamor for a view of their leader, Jan. 1, 2002. More than 200 riot police prevented demonstrators from storming the building (Photo: AFP).

In Zambia, the transition from a decade of single-party rule is proving thorny. Losers in the Dec. 27 presidential election have mounted court challenges to President Levy Mwanawasa’s razor-thin victory. Assuming the court maneuvers fail (many observers believe they will), Mwanawasa will be obliged to work with a Parliament dominated by the opposition, albeit fragmented among five parties.

For most of the 1990s, President Frederick Chiluba could count on a legislature controlled by his Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). But Mwanawasa, chosen by Chiluba as the MMD’s candidate, won’t have the same luxury. Now the MMD holds 75 seats in Parliament against 80 for the opposition. (There is also one independent.) To be sure, squabbling is rife among the opposition parties over the allocation of posts like speaker and leader of the opposition. So while the opposition may be able to block the MMD’s initiatives, it’s far from certain it will be able to put together serious programs of its own—a recipe for disaster in a poverty-stricken country that desperately needs economic leadership.

“What we have is a stalemate and a caricature of government,” opposition FDD (Forum for Democracy and Development) party official Sketchley Sacika was quoted as saying by The Post on Jan. 18. Mwanawasa isn’t even sure of firm support within his own party, The Post commented on Jan. 21. “Mwanawasa allowed himself to be imposed on the MMD by Chiluba who hand-picked him for a specific mission, that of protecting him and his henchmen,” the newspaper said. “Now that Mwanawasa has named a cabinet that is relatively light on Chiluba loyalists,” The Post went on, “Chiluba’s camp is now [going] all out to undermine Mwanawasa.”

Meantime, petitions contesting Mwanawasa’s election from the three leading opposition candidates are pending in the Supreme Court. The government-owned Times of Zambia (Jan. 18) questioned the opposition’s claims of ballot rigging and undercounting of opposition votes. The Times, quoting a report from the independent Carter Center, which monitored the elections, said the Atlanta-based organization had noted discrepancies in vote counts, but that these had cut across party lines and favored no single party.

Regardless of the merit of the opposition petitions, the structure of Zambia’s constitution makes it almost impossible for them to succeed, a prominent lawyer said. The Post quoted Michelo Hansungule, professor of law at the University of Pretoria’s Center for Human Rights, as saying the chief justice both “declares the results of the winner and then proceeds to sit on the Supreme Court bench to determine...matters which he has just satisfied himself.”

One positive point about all the postelection contention is that it hasn’t spilled into the streets. No significant election-linked disturbances had been reported as of Jan. 22.