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Tuesday, 3 April, 2001, 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK
Zambia's president faces people power
President Chiluba
President Chiluba: Will he or won't he run again
By Ishbel Matheson in Lusaka

It is five o'clock on Friday afternoon and car-horns start blaring in downtown Lusaka.


Please Mr President... just do the right thing and go

Shop assistant
The sound builds to a crescendo, as motorists sweep past the capital's main shopping centre. Pedestrians whistle and wave support.

This noisy protest takes place at the same time, every week.

Shop assistant, Sylvia and her friend, Mary, pause on their way home from work. They are wearing green ribbons - another sign of protest.

"Please Mr President," says Sylvia, "We respect you. But just do the right thing and go!"

Resolve falters

Zambians, famous for their placid, peaceful ways, are up in arms.

Lusaka: Usually a quiet city
Lusaka: Usually a quiet city
The man, who has incurred their displeasure, prompting a wave of public opposition, is the president, Frederick Chiluba.

Ten years ago, he was a popular hero, when his Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) won a landslide victory against veteran leader, Kenneth Kaunda.

For much of his presidency, Mr Chiluba has preached, if not always practised, the virtues of democracy.

He has also vowed publicly to step down when his two terms in office are up.

But as his retirement draws closer, his resolve is apparently faltering.

Last year, some rank-and-file party members began calling for his re-election.

The president decreed there should be a national debate on the matter, saying ordinary people should have their say.

Outrage

Many Zambians are outraged, saying that it is Chiluba himself who is orchestrating the calls for his own re-election.


Leaders are trying to cling to power, when they should be out of power

Student
They accuse him of backtracking and attempting to hang onto power under the pretext of popular support.

"You look at the continent, there have been upheavals, conflicts, people are suffering," fumes one student, toting his green ribbon, at a public meeting against the third term.

"Leaders are trying to cling to power, when they should be out of power."

If President Chiluba does want to stand again, he has to change both the MMD's and the national constitutions. Many believe he has been laying the groundwork for months, by placing his supporters in key positions.

'Evil'

But as the campaign for his re-election has gathered pace, so have the incidents of harassment and intimidation against those who dare to oppose it.


Why should we be declared a Christian nation, when there is so much evil going on

Father Ignatious Mwebe
Father Ignatious Mwebe, the secretary-general of the Zambian Episcopal Conference, says: "What is coming out of the whole third term situation could be described as evil and wicked.

"You find people fighting, a lot of resources being used on bribing people. Why should we be declared a Christian nation, when there is so much evil going on."

But the array of organisations opposed to a third term is formidable. All of Zambia's main churches have condemned it - so too have the country's main trades unions, major civil rights groups, opposition parties and a large section of the president's own party.

Turmoil

The MMD is in turmoil. A stream of senior party members, including cabinet ministers, have publicly denounced a third term. Some have lost their jobs over the issue, and others have been physically and verbally assaulted by party cadres loyal to the president.

Former cabinet minister, Ackson Sejani, who was sacked a few weeks ago, says if Chiluba does go for it, he would be breaking faith.

"Zambia being the torch-bearers of the democratic revolution that swept the continent in the 1990s, the guiding light would have dimmed. That would be sad for Africa."

An extraordinary national convention of the ruling party could be a turning point. Delegates from all over the country will be asked to vote, in a secret ballot, to change the party's constitution.

Some say the outcome could determine the future of one of Africa's fledgling democracies.

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See also:

30 Mar 01 | Africa
Africa Media Watch
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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