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Friday, 9 February, 2001, 16:09 GMT
Controversy over Chiluba's 'third term'
President Frederick Chiluba
Chiluba has not yet decided on his future
The issue of whether Zambian President Frederick Chiluba should stand for a third term of office will not go away.

The president has previously expressed his desire to retire at the end of his second term in office in October this year.

Those advocating for him to stand are on a campaign to safeguard their jobs

Father Ignatius Mwebe
Catholic church secreatery-general
The Zambian leader now appears to be encouraging debate on whether the country's constitution should be amended, allowing him a third term as president.

The ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) spokesman Vernon Mwaanga said President Chiluba wants "the issue of a third term to be freely debated."

More time

The debate started late last year when some MMD leaders in rural areas started the campaign.

Northern province deputy minister Daniel Kapapa argued that President Chiluba should be allowed to complete his programmes.

The MMD and Zambia's constitution does not allow for a president to stand for a third term, nevertheless people continue to agitate for it.

President Chiluba has not confirmed his retirement in an attempt to end the speculation.

Opposition building

This has prompted opposition parties, lawyers and church leaders to conclude that the Zambian leader has changed his mind about retiring.

This is a grave assault on democracy in our party and the country as a whole

Ackson Sejani MMD member opposed to Chiluba
Sakwiba Sikota, a Lusaka-based lawyer, said: "The whole campaign is clearly orchestrated by Chiluba himself. If he was not interested in running again, he would have re-affirmed his earlier stand."

Most of the MMD leaders advocating a third term are newly appointed district who stand to lose their jobs once Chiluba goes.

"Those advocating for him to stand are on a campaign to safeguard their jobs," Father Ignatius Mwebe, secretary general of the Catholic Church, said.

He explained that unless "the president himself tells the nation once again that he is not standing, these people will continue with their campaign."

Amending the MMD's constitution would have to take place during the party's national convention, which is expected to take place in two-to-three months' time.

Party split

This will not be straightforward because there is considerable opposition to the third term bid within the MMD, which threatens to deepen divisions. These have already started to surface.

Four provinces - Copperbelt, Luapula, Central and Eastern - have resolved to support the third term bid. But the MMD in Lusaka opposes it.

This has set the MMD national secretary Michael Sata, and the party's chairman for elections Ackson Sejani on a collision course.

Sata told a pro-Chiluba crowd: "We will petition the president to stand. Those resolutions made by Lusaka province are wishful thinking of the new executive and those with wishful thinking are in the minority."

Interventionist measures have already been drawn to counter any manipulation of the republican constitution

Law Association of Zambia
Sejani, on the other hand, said criticism of those against the third term bid amounts to "a grave assault on democracy in our party and the country as a whole. We will not allow the democracy we fought for to be hijacked by selfish interests."

A sizeable number of ministers, who have presidential aspirations, are opposed to the idea.

During a party conference held recently in Lusaka, some ministers refused to wear t-shirts or caps emblazoned with third term calls for Chiluba.

However, if Chiluba decides to run, there are likely to be deep divisions within the MMD which might weaken the ruling party in the run-up to the presidential and general elections slated for October.

There is also likely to be widespread public resentment.

Time to go

Apart from the MMD members, many Zambians - from churchmen to lawyers - think Chiluba should stick by his word and gracefully bow out.

Father Mwebe, speaking for the protestant churches, said: "The church leadership is totally opposed to calls for President Chiluba to go for a third term because the move is unconstitutional and undemocratic."

The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) has already worked out plans to challenge President Chiluba's third term bid.

LAZ vice chairperson Nellie Mutti said: "We are ready, and interventionist measures have already been drawn to counter any manipulation of the republican constitution."

Mutti said the plain fact is: "President Chiluba has served his two terms. He should allow others the opportunity to serve the people of Zambia."

But for the president's supporters, their man has not had enough.

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See also:

17 Aug 00 | Africa
Zambia's stylish president
31 Jul 00 | Africa
Zambia: Eyes on the prize
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Zambia
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