Pressure is mounting on Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa to step down and call fresh elections following damaging testimony before the Supreme Court suggesting electoral fraud helped him into office last year.
The pressure has come from some of Mwanawasa's closest allies, as they witness the former lawyer turned anti-corruption crusader become increasingly linked to breaches of Zambia's electoral code in a Supreme Court hearing launched by opposition parties who are attempting to have the December 2001 poll annulled.
Mwanawasa, who struck a popular chord with his campaign against corruption which targeted former key members of his own party in the previous administration of Frederick Chiluba, has reportedly said that he would not succumb to "ill advise" to resign, and instead would wait for the Supreme Court's decision.
"I refuse to call for fresh elections based on lies which are being told," he told journalists. "I have lots of respect for the judiciary and I will respect their decision in this matter."
But Mwanawasa's credibility suffered a further blow last week when Xavier Chungu, the former head of intelligence under Chiluba, testified that he personally cleaned up Mwanawasa's "bad debts" before the 2001 election using a special intelligence account held in London. He also alleged that he gave Mwanawasa up to US $416,000 in cash to help buy votes in the run up to the poll.
In addition to the money he said he personally gave Mwanawasa from state coffers, Chungu alleged that he spent an additional US $458,000 to purchase cars and bicycles for Mwanawasa's campaign, on instructions from Chiluba, who had chosen Mwanawasa to succeed him as presidential candidate for the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).
Chungu was subpoenaed by lawyers of the three main opposition parties, the United Party for National Development (UPND), the Forum for Democracy and Development and the Heritage Party who are challenging the result of the 2001 election. The former intelligence chief is currently under police custody and faces more than 20 counts of theft.
The head of the European Union election monitoring team testified late last year that the polls were not free and fair and so did the US-based Carter Centre and two domestic monitors, Coalition 2001 and the Foundation for a Democratic Process. Their main bone of contention was the use of state funds by Mwanawasa's campaign.
Former ministers Vernon Mwaanga, Levison Mumba and Michael Sata have all provided details on how tax-payers money was spent to support Mwanawasa's candidacy. Chiluba himself has gone on record that he would be willing to testify against Mwanawasa if he was subpoenaed.
In the face of the damaging allegations of vote-buying, even Mwanawasa's allies have begun to distance themselves.
Twice this week the influential privately owned newspaper The Post, which has backed Mwanawasa's campaign to jail politicians that had plundered the economy over the past decade of MMD rule, advised him to stand down to avoid further embarrassment.
"We urge President Mwanawasa to heed the advice of so many well-meaning and well-intentioned Zambians at home and abroad calling for fresh elections, without that, no good will come out of his government regardless of good intentions, policies and programmes he may have," one editorial argued.
"We say this because as things stand today, President Mwanawasa's crusade against corruption cannot be complete because if it is not limited, it will touch on his very source of power — the 27 December 2001 fraudulent election."
Mwanawasa's response has been to announce a radical move to appoint key opposition members of parliament to his government. The decision, however, has earned him further scorn from opposition leaders who regard it as a thinly veiled attempt to divide them and derail the Supreme Court petition.
"If the planned appointments were in good faith, Mwanawasa would have consulted the party leaders, but he has chosen to go it alone which can only mean one thing, he wants to weaken the opposition and undoubtedly scuttle the petition," said UPND spokesman Robby Makayi.
Ben Mwila, leader of the Zambia Republican Party, told journalists that the "only way Mwanawasa can regain credibility is by calling for a fresh election now in the national interest, hanging on to power is against national interest and he knows it".
But concern has emerged that although a fresh election could technically be the right step, it could throw Zambia into confusion and sink the government's popular poverty alleviation programmes.
"You need lots of money to hold an election, and money is one thing this government seems to lack the most right now," Sipho Kapumba, information and research officer at the Zambia chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa told IRIN. "This thing ought to be thought over and elections can be held maybe 18 months from now in order to ensure that the social programmes go ahead."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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