By Masauso Lungu and Reuben Tonga
Zambia's fragile experiment in democracy building is under threat and friends and the international community must urgently move in to save it.
This is the conclusion of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) which visited Zambia on a fact finding mission between August 27 and September 5, this year and the findings are being released today silmuteneously in Lusaka,London and New Dehli.
The CHRI also warned against any delays in helping Zambia in her situation because "the shortage of time is a critical factor."
The CHRI which made a 16 point summary of their impressions of the Zambian situation also gave a 13 point recommendation on how Zambia could come out of her situation.
Among the recommendations are that government opens itself up to dialogue, considers a constituent assembly for broadened constitutional debate and desists from forcing an election on Zambians without ironing out the pressing problems.
On dialogue CHRI says this should include opposition parties beyond the main opposition UNIP. The CHRI also observes that interparty meetings should be chaired by a neutral personality other than any of the heads of the key players.
"But if necessary, recourse could be to the standing asset of the Commonwealth Secretary General or other suitable international personalities," the statement said.
Although the CHRI is not dictating an agenda for such talks it specifically says dialogue should concentrate on meeting short terms goals "which would facilitate an early election and limit the need for special extensions of the life of the present parliament."
They also proposed that the voter registration exercise and the qualifications for the presidential candidates be given special attention in the talks.
The CHRI however recommends the re-opening of consensus building on the constitution.
"The government could lower the political temperature markedly by simply making the statement that its recent constitutional amendments were stop gap measures and that it acknowledges the need for a proper national debate of the 1995 constitution commission proposals in constituent assembly," the statement said.
The conclusions and recommendations signed by Kamal Hossain, Anita Raynell Andreychuk and Neville Linton were obtained by The Post last Friday and have been simultaneously released in London and New Delhi.
The CHRI says the government should not go ahead with an unpopular election merely on account of its 'right' as to do so "might soon force it into the policies of an escalating authoritarianism."
"It should not risk undermining the gains made through its tough economic programme by now having to put new acute strains on the economy due to the donor's suspension of aid."
President Chiluba has also been urged to maintain moral uprightness and be decisive on indiscipline within his government.
"If the office of president is to keep its luster, it is important that the President distances himself convincingly from ministers whose behaviour readily leads to charges of corruption being made, even by donors and from ministers who bring the government into disrepute by seriously ill-judged statements smacking of prejudice or of contempt for the judiciary."
They warned further; "In terms of his stewardship President Chiluba, if he is to maintain the international respect which he gained in 199, needs to govern in a manner which ensures that this, the first multiparty regime is marked by fairness, flexibility and progress."
According to the CHRI all political parties must ascribe to some code of conduct in the period of elections and uphold their obligation to keep Zambia peaceful by refraining from issuing inflammatory statements.
The CHRI has also recommended that the donor community consider funding opposition parties as a way of strengthening the opposition and consequently democracy.
Government has not reacted to this release yet but its four man international relations delegation led by foreign minister Christon Tembo which visited west and north Africa has maintained that all was well for Zambia.
''We went on this trip to West Africa and Egypt to try to clear out the misrepresentation on the government constitutional stance. Everywhere we went, we explained to them that our constitution is what Zambians wanted and we are merely putting up the wishes of all Zambians," said Tembo at a press briefing shortly after his arrival at the Lusaka International Airport on Saturday.
He, was accompanied by former foreign affairs minister, Vernon Mwaanga, legal affairs minister, Luminzu Shimaponda, deputy minister in the office of the president, Eric Silwamba.
The four met Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, President Abdul Diouf of Senegal, Konan Bedie of Ivory Coast, Jerry Rawlings of Ghana and Nigerian military ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha.
"We had meetings with the five leaders and afterwards they accepted our stand because they all felt it is an internal matter, and we assured them of continued relations," said Tembo