Third-Term Debate

In preparation for his country’s national election this October, Zambian President Frederick Chiluba has launched what looks like a doomed bid for an unconstitutional third term in office.

Chiluba, whose Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) replaced Kenneth Kaunda’s 27-year authoritarian rule in 1991, said as recently as 1998 that he would stand down once his term limit of two five-year terms was up. His sudden about-face has drawn harsh criticism from many quarters.

“After 10 uneven years on the throne, Frederick Chiluba has not only exhibited some corrupt and dictatorial tendencies common to African rulers, but he is desperate to hang on,” said an editorial in Lagos’s independent This Day (April 3).

Writing in the independent Post of Zambia (April 9), Joseph Kuluneta called Chiluba’s change of heart “wholly at variance with the most elementary democratic principles.” During Chiluba’s early years in power, Zambia was praised as one of Africa’s promising fledgling democracies. But increasing mismanagement of the country’s copper resources, a growing AIDS crisis, and crackdowns on the independent press have soured Zambians’ opinions of their leader.

To run for a third term, Chiluba would have to change the constitutions of both the MMD and the country. All Zambia’s opposition parties, church organizations, trade unions, and civil rights groups are against him. On April 8, the Zambia Republican Party (ZRP) announced a merger with the United Party for Democrats in an attempt to block Chiluba’s third-term bid.

“Our common agenda is to stop President Chiluba from continuing as president because he is the wrong man,” said Sylvia Masebo, secretary general of the ZRP, in a statement quoted by The Post (April 9).

At press time, the MMD was preparing for a convention on April 27-30 at which party members were scheduled to vote on whether to amend the party’s constitution to allow for a third term.

But in a preemptive strike on April 11, 59 members of the Zambian parliament signed a declaration rejecting any attempt to confer a third term on Chiluba. Quoted in The Post on April 12, Lusaka Central member of parliament Dipak Patel was unequivocal. “Chiluba and his friends have lost the battle even before the convention,” he said.