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Opposition leader under fire

[Zambia] Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata addressing a rally in Lusaka.
Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata addressing a rally in the capital, Lusaka. (Nebert Mulenga/IRIN)

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa's main political opponent, Michael Sata, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with false declaration of his assets.

The accusation relates to the declaration completed by the Patriotic Front (PF) leader when he filed his nomination papers to stand in the September general elections. On Wednesday, Sata's lawyers, Robert Simeza and Bonaventure Mutale, urged the Magistrate's Court in the capital, Lusaka, to quash the charge on the grounds that the PF leader's eligibility for the election had been determined by his citizenship and not his assets.

A conviction could end Sata's political career, as Zambian law bars anyone convicted of an offence from holding public office.

Several analysts maintained that Sata's arrest was politically motivated. The PF leader mounted an aggressive election campaign accusing Chinese and Indian investors of exploiting Zambian workers, which resulted in a win for Sata in Lusaka and Copperbelt, the country's two most prosperous provinces.

Last week, the opposition leader was denied police permission to hold rallies in Lusaka, but Solicitor-General Sunday Nkonde intervened and gave him the go-ahead to hold the meetings.

Lee Habasonda, executive director of the Southern African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes, a regional good governance watchdog, said Mwanawasa was taking advantage of his incumbency.

"Sata's arrest is carefully thought out because Mwanawasa now feels he has the legitimacy, unlike the immediate period after the election. He knows very well that he has the power and, therefore, has decided to take Sata on without expecting a backlash," Habasonda said.

"His [Sata's] arrest is ill-timed and meant to frustrate the opposition, and it is clear that the government has a hand in this. At first, police denied him the permits to hold rallies without any explanation, and now they have arrested him over something totally inconceivable," said a Lusaka-based political analyst who declined to be identified.

Mwanawasa publicly admonished the PF leader at his first political rally after the elections in western Zambia on Tuesday, saying, "Sata will cry if he continues to be stupid."

The president has also asked Nkonde to resign for overruling the police's decision to deny the PF leader permits to hold rallies in Lusaka.

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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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