Zambian Election Marks Africa's Democratic Shift
Vote was one of continent's most peaceful transitions to democracy
THE landslide electoral defeat of Kenneth Kaunda's ruling party in a peaceful ballot over the weekend could mark the turning point in Africa's march to democracy.The democracy movement in Africa is picking up the momentum of the tide that swept governments from power in Eastern Europe two years ago, a Western diplomat says. Western diplomats predict that Kenya, Malawi, and Zimbabwe will be the first nations to feel the spin-off effects of the Zambian poll. The vote could also speed up faltering transitions to democracy in Angola, South Africa, and Mozambique. "It will be much more difficult for oppressors to keep people oppressed after what has happened here," said former United States President Jimmy Carter, who headed an international monitoring team that declared the Zambian ballot "free and fair." President Frederick Chiluba's Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) crushed the ruling United National Independence Party (UNIP) by winning at least 124 of the 150 parliamentary seats after surprisingly low voter turnout of less than 50 percent.
Kaunda was confident Dr. Kaunda, who had led the country since independence in 1964, appeared confident of a landslide victory until polling day, which bolstered his critics' charges that he had lost touch with the nation he founded 27 years ago. The significance of the Zambian poll lies in the fact that it was the culmination of one of the most peaceful transitions to democracy in Africa. It is the first former British colony to change its head of state through democratic elections - and one of only a handful ever to have done so. Mr. Chiluba garnered 76 percent of the presidential vote against Kaunda's 24 percent. The extent of the MMD'S victory surpassed even its most optimistic predictions. Zambia joins eight other African states which are classified as democratic by Richard Joseph, director of the African Governance Program at the Carter Center of Emory University.
Impact on Africa The Zambian transition is going to have more of an impact on Africa than any other that has taken place on the continent, said Mr. Joseph, a leading member of Mr. Carter's monitoring team. According to the Center, 30 African states are in the process of transition to democracy, and only six qualify as "authoritarian systems in which rulers have no accountability. Carter has appealed to the Bush administration to reward Zambia's commitment to democracy by targeting it as a priority nation for United States aid. "I hope that my government will take the leadership in calling on the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the lending institutions to move boldly to give Zambia assistance - not handouts," Carter said. "I think this would be an investment which would pay rich dividends ... to see democracy strengthened here," he added. He also called for Zambia's $8 billion in foreign debt to be written off. Foreign investment would enable Chiluba to show early benefits in the pitiful state of Zambia's schools and hospitals. International monitoring teams, which included a Commonwealth team and a group of British jurists, played a key role in ensuring a fair ballot. "There has been a true empowerment of the people here," said a Western diplomat. "The democracy came from the grass roots." Men and women lined up separately before dawn at 3,600 polling stations - often enduring scorching sun for hours to cast their ballots, which they treated with a sense of reverence. Fears that Kaunda, who has survived several coup attempts in the past, might try to cling to power were unfounded. Within 18 hours of the polls closing, he was prepared to concede defeat. "I tried to do my very best for Zambia, its people, and mankind as a whole...if my very best did not completely meet the aspirations of all those I tried to serve, it was never for lack of trying," Kaunda said in a televised address to the nation Friday. But the graceful manner of his departure is offset by the economic mismanagement, deprivation, and decay which he has left behind. Diplomats praised Kaunda for the manner of his departure. Carter described it as an act of "the highest statesmanship," but their judgment about his economic performance was harsh. "Kaunda was brought down by his total incomprehension of politics," a senior Western diplomat said. The judgment of voters was even harsher. "We thought he was a good man, but then we realized he was a crook," said one angry voter at a Lusaka polling station. "He swindled Zambia. He wrecked it. I would like to see him tried in court." But Chiluba has urged his supporters to practice reconciliation. "My plea to Dr. Kaunda is to take my extended hand of friendship ...for this is the very essence of change...that we make one nation and live together in harmony," he said.
Opposition gains ground As pressure for democracy gained momentum over the past 18 months, Kaunda survived by giving way on one-party rule and endorsing a multiparty Constitution in July. But the fortunes of UNIP appeared to have suffered irreversible damage at its annual conference in August when Kaunda intervened to squash a challenge to his leadership. Chiluba, a man whose hallmarks are his pragmatism and frankness, has consistently warned his followers that economic reconstruction will be arduous. "This crisis needs discipline, hard work, honesty, clean government, and a determination to look our problems squarely in the face," he said. "The Zambia we inherit today is destitute, ravaged by the excesses, ineptitudes, and corruption of a party - and of a people - who have been in power too long," Chiluba said at a swearing-in ceremony at the Zambian high court on Saturday watched by about 40,000 cheering supporters. Chiluba faces tough economic decisions - such as the removal of subsidies on corn and a drastic trimming of the civil service - if he is to achieve economic recovery. Living standards in the copper-rich nation have fallen steadily since independence as the economy has been sapped by inefficient state firms and neglect of the potentially lucractive agricultural sector.