On November 18, 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections were held in Zambia, five years almost to the day after the first multiparty elections in November 1991. These were very different elections. The 1996 election results returned President Frederick Chiluba and his Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) to power with the majority of the contested seats in what was presented as a landslide victory. In reality, it was an empty conquest over an opposition that had resolved to boycott the electoral exercise. Numerous human rights violations before the vote-centered on the MMD's fervent manipulation of the constitutional reform process-had seriously undermined the electoral process by skewing it strongly in favor of the MMD. The fairness of the elections was widely challenged and President Chiluba took his second oath of office in a climate of intense hostility and resentment. International ambivalence over the run-up to the election and its outcome had resulted in a donor aid freeze that specifically targeted balance of payments support. Discredited and facing near bankruptcy, the Chiluba government has made some attempts in the six months since its re-election to improve the human rights record, with an eye to the resumption of the aid flow. But change was often superficial. In an interview on March 4, President Chiluba said:"What is incomprehensible is that because we have adopted high standards, we are now judged by those high standards." 1 Indeed, since the watershed of the 1991 elections, standards have been retrogressive.
By contrast, the 1991 election was considered a landmark for democracy in Africa. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War had presaged a movement for change across the continent. Twenty-seven years of one-party rule under former President Kenneth Kaunda and his United National Independence Party (UNIP) were swept away by a wave of democratization that seemed to herald a new era. Zambia, at the crest of this wave, was the first country in Africa to return a popularly-elected president to power and bring in a national assembly that included the opposition. President Frederick Chiluba, a former trade union leader, reflected the hopes and aspirations of many Africans, and an overwhelming majority of Zambians supported his pledges of accountable democratic governance and a commitment to human rights. As the first former British colony to change its head of state through democratic elections and a peaceful transfer of power, Zambia was internationally regarded as having made a model transition to democracy.
The international donor community responded by showering Zambia with goodwill. In 1992 Zambia received $1.8 billion-three times the average aid package to other African countries. Until early 1996, international donors underwrote President Chiluba's economic reform program with an aid contribution of up to $1 billion a year. As the country's largest source of foreign exchange, aid accounted for almost 70 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.
However, the promises of the dawn of freedom under MMD rule were not to last. Fairly soon after taking office, President Chiluba and his ruling MMD-government began to renege on election pledges and promises. Mid-way through their first term of office, bitter disputes with the opposition erupted, and human rights violations abounded.
By 1993, the political climate had changed considerably. In March, President Chiluba declared a state of emergency after allegedly discovering a "plot," called the Zero Option Plan, by the former ruling party, UNIP, to overthrow the government. Twenty-six people were detained, many of them senior UNIP members. Two months later, after a Supreme Court finding that emergency regulations were not valid, all of the remaining detainees were released, and the state of emergency was lifted. Under the former one-party state, Zambia had spent almost twenty-seven years under partial emergency rule. President Chiluba and his MMD government were beginning to attract controversy and becoming increasingly inclined to use intimidation and other methods to maintain their grip on power. Relationships with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other parts of civil society, including the media, the opposition and the church began to deteriorate as human rights violations, in particular violations of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, increased.2
A great deal of controversy and political tension has pivoted around the Constitution of 1991, and it continues to take center stage of the Zambian political arena. Enacted in the closing months of the Kaunda-years, it was founded on little more than an inter-party agreement reached at a meeting between the UNIP government and the new opposition parties in July 1991. While the constitution paved the way for a transition from one-party rule to multiparty democracy, it did not adequately address basic issues such as accountable governance, additions to the Bill of Rights and checking the powers of the office of the president, and many were dissatisfied with its limitations. This dissatisfaction opened the way for a ground breaking report that was completed by the Mwanakatwe Constitutional Review Commission and submitted to the MMD government in June 1995. Its key recommendation was that a draft constitution be prepared and adopted by a constituent assembly and subjected to a referendum.Although President Chiluba appeared to offer a consensual approach to decision-making on constitutional provisions and had called for a referendum to coincide with the next presidential and parliamentary elections, the commission's recommendation was rejected. Instead, the government enacted the highly controversial Constitutional Amendment Act of 1996, which effectively allowed parliament to alter the constitution without altering the Bill of Rights, which would have required a referendum. The constitutional debate was to intensify.
Signaling the beginning of a new chapter of conflict, the May 1996 Amendment Act included a provision that imposed new requirements on people seeking to hold the office of the presidency. Eligible candidates had to be Zambian citizens by birth or descendants of Zambian parents and could not be tribal chiefs.3 The provision was specifically tailored to bar former President Kaunda and his second-in-command in UNIP, Senior Chief Inyambo Yeta, from contesting the presidency. Kaunda's parents were from Malawi and Yeta is a tribal chief. By disqualifying the MMD's main rivals, the playing field was strongly tilted in President Chiluba's favor. From that point on, the electoral process was flawed, and the standing of the elections seriously undermined. In mid-1996, the government charged nine political opponents with treason, including UNIP Vice-President Senior Chief InyamboYeta.
The opposition's response was to call for a boycott of the election, which it mounted both by not fielding alternate candidates and by launching a country-wide campaign calling on people not to vote. The electorate, disenchanted with five years of the Chiluba administration, obliged, and only about a quarter of eligible voters turned up at the polls.4
While the November 1996 elections were conducted fairly peacefully, they were marred. Few international observers were present. Instead, donors supported the independent election monitoring groups, most of whom described the elections as not substantially free or fair.5
According to elections officer Joel Sikazwe, 2.3 million people registered as voters, and slightly more than a million actually voted. But Chiluba won 69 percent of the presidential vote with 913,770 of the 1,138,570 votes cast. His closest rival, Dean Mungomba of the Zambia Democratic Congress party, got 12 percent of the vote with144,366 votes.6 Mungomba, however, refused to accept the results, charging that the polls were rigged. He went into hiding this month after making statements that police said amounted to treason.
President Chiluba was sworn into his second term of office on November 21, 1996. On December 2 he named his new government, its composition much more dominated by Bemba speakers.7
Ten days after the vote, on November 29, four opposition parties filed petitions in the Supreme Court challenging President Frederick Chiluba's victory in the disputed polls.8 Two other parties, Agenda for Zambia and National Congress, filed a petition challenging the legitimacy of the poll. They claimed that inadequate efforts to register voters, which excluded half of the 4.6 million eligible voters, and other irregularities, including vote buying, rendered the elections illegitimate. Earlier in the month, the Supreme Court had thrown out opposition petitions challenging Chiluba's origins because they were filed prematurely: under new laws effected in 1996, electoral petitions could only be made after an election has been held.1 The Financial Times (London), March 4, 1997. 2 Africa Watch (now Human Rights Watch/Africa), "Zambia: Model for Democracy Declares State of Emergency," News from Africa Watch, vol.5, no.8, June 1993. 3 Emblematic of its increasingly xenophobic leanings, the Zambian government deported UNIP politicians William Banda and John Chinula to Malawi in October and August 1994, respectively, as illegal immigrants although their nationality had not been questioned previously by the authorities. President Chiluba defended the deportations on February 15, 1997, telling The Sunday Mail that rumors that the deported duo were declared Zambians by the Malawian court were unfounded, saying President Muluzi of Malawi had confirmed to him that the two politicians were Malawians."They are Malawians and if they want to visit Zambia they can only do so as Malawians, Chiluba said. However, the Malawi High Court, "Miscellaneous Cause No.2 of 1995," ruled that "(1) That the applicants Steven William Banda and John Lyson Chinula have been found not to be citizens of Malawi; (2) that the coming into Malawi by the applicants was involuntary as they were deported. The stay in Malawi was for the purpose of identifying their relations in order to verify their Malawian citizenship. That exercise was conducted and it was conclusively established that they are non-citizens; (3) Mr John Lyson Chinula was born in Zambia but had Malawian citizenship up to 1974, during which he renounced his relationship and the same has not been reinstated since (4)That Steven William Banda has never been a citizen of Malawi in his life." 4 See, "Zambia: Elections and Human Rights in the Third Republic," A Human Rights Watch Report, December 1996, vol. 8, no.4(A). 5 Committee for a Clean Campaign, Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Zambia: November 18 1996 (Lusaka: CCC, 1997); Fackson Banda, Elections and the Press in Zambia: the Case of the 1996 Polls (Lusaka: Zambia Independent Media Association, 1997); Foundation for Democratic Process, Final Election Monitoring Report. Zambia's November 18, 1996 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections (Lusaka: FODEP, 1997). 6 See, Committee for a Clean Campaign, Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Zambia: . . . 7 There are no fewer than seventy-three different ethnic groups among Zambia's
indigenous population. Major groups are: the Bemba of the north-east, who are also dominant on the Copperbelt; the Nyanja of the Eastern Province, also numerous in Lusaka; the Tonga of the Southern Province and the Lozi of the west. President Chiluba is a Bemba speaker, as are the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and most of the cabinet.8 UNIP's position was published in the booklet, Democracy Aborted: The manipulation of The Constitution of Zambia and the Electoral Process and the Rigging of the 18 November, 1996 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections (Lusaka: UNIP, 1997).