Protest over election date silence

Zambian human rights groups are divided over whether to support a call by opposition parties for a public disobedience campaign to press President Frederick Chiluba to announce the date for general elections.

The Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) and the United Party for National Development (UPND) have asked people to wear green ribbons and honk car horns as protest over Chiluba's silence, but the move has been condemned by the Zambia Independent Monitoring Team (ZIMT), news reports said on Tuesday.

ZIMT president Alfred Zulu reportedly said the demonstration would trigger a break down in law and order. He added that the perceived delay in announcing the election date did not flout the provisions of the country's constitution.

However, the rights group Inter African Network for Human Rights (AFRONET) warned that the delay in setting an election date was increasing political tension in the country. AFRONET information officer Muleya Mwananyanda told IRIN that the opposition parties' protest calls "are really justified, (Chiluba) needs to be pressurised to set an election date".

Under the constitution, choosing an election date is the prerogative of the president, and he has chosen to keep his cards close to his chest. But Chiluba must call an election within three months of dissolving parliament, and the lifespan of the current national assembly ends on 17 January 2002.

"An election date should have been announced by now, we are in to the rainy season which will make logistics difficult," Mwananyanda said. "We think its basically an abuse of his power not to announce an election date."

According to news reports, the police are prepared to arrest motorists who join in the horn honking in support of the opposition parties' call. A similar campaign was launched by opposition and civil society groups earlier this year to successfully protest against Chiluba's plans to amend the constitution and run for a third term.