Zambia: Chiluba´s retirement announcement receives mixed feelings

Sharon Sichilongo

Several people opposed to a third term of office for Zambian President Frederick Chiluba have expressed doubts that he trully intends to retire at the end of this year.

This follows Dr. Chiluba's announcement on national radio and television last Friday night that he would step down at the end of his term of office. Dr. Chiluba also announced that they would be no referendum to amend the Republican Constitution.

People opposed to the third term, however, advise Zambians to remain alert and to oppose and prevent any attempts to manipulate the constitution and the electoral process. Former Labour Minister Edith Nawakwi said: "We believe that he is buying time in an attempt to hoodwink the country into passiveness on the issue so that he can save face to ensure that the July Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit goes ahead smoothly and then he can conveniently return to his original agenda."

Zambia is hosting the July OAU meeting. There has been speculation that the venue of the summit would be changed due to the political instability in Zambia that resulted from the debate on the third term issue.

Expelled Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) Lusaka Province chairman Boniface Kawimbe has advised Zambians never to believe what Dr. Chiluba said. Dr. Kawimbe said President Chiluba's ambition of continuing in leadership was still alive. "We can not trust his words. We must watch his actions," Dr. Kawimbe said.

Zambia Republican Party (ZRP) chairman for finance and economic affairs Dean Mung'omba has charged that Dr. Chiluba's undertaking that he would step down at the end of his term of office can only be described in one word - a lie.

He called on the civil society and patriotic citizens to step up their fight to ensure that President Chiluba indeed retires and elections are held this year without any amendments to the Constitution. "We need to jointly pursue this agenda with not only the same but increased strength," Mr. Mung'omba said. "I just want to warn him that we will not give him the luxury to allow him change the Constitution."

Women for Change (WFC) executive director Emily Sikazwe said: "We can not trust him going by his past pronouncements on the Land Act and 1996 Constitution. We must remind ourselves what he told us about the Land Act and how he assured president Nelson Mandela on the 1996 Constitution. He told president Mandela that he would not sign the Constitution but went ahead later."

Mrs Sikazwe urged Zambians never to allow themselves to be fooled again by President Chiluba's trickery system of governance. "Never again shall we allow the president to have absolute powers to hold everyone at ransom," she said.