President Levy Mwanawasa on Thursday appointed an opposition leader Reverend Nevers Mumba as vice-president, ignoring dissent within his own party and threats of legal action.
Mumba, an evangelical television preacher and failed presidential candidate, was sworn in after Mwanawasa announced the sacking of Vice-President Enoch Kavindele and Finance Minister Emmanuel Kasonde in a national broadcast on Wednesday. Information Minister Newstead Zimba and Inspector General of police Francis Zonda were also dropped.
"I will not tell the public why I have decided to remove the vice-president and the finance minister, but I have written them personally to explain why, and to explain why we had to part company this way [through a national address]," Mwanawasa said in his broadcast.
Vernon Mwaanga, a National Executive Committee member of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), said the selection of Mumba, who until the beginning of the week led the opposition National Citizens Coalition, would deepen hostility towards Mwanawasa in some sections of the party.
"The appointment of Reverend Mumba has definitely weakened the MMD further, and the repercussions could be too much for Mr Mwanawasa to face. This is because mainstream MMD members who have been in the party since inception, I believe, will not sit by and watch their party get taken over by members of the opposition at such a high level," Mwaanga told IRIN.
Mwaanga was an early casualty in Mwanawasa's "New Deal" government and was asked to resign as spokesman. Another group of MMD politicians, including former president Frederick Chiluba, are being investigated as part of Mwanawasa's high-profile anti-corruption crusade.
Roger Chongwe, a lawyer and former legal affairs minister said Mwanawasa's decision to appoint Mumba was unconstitutional.
"Article 68.3 of the Zambian constitution makes it illegal for a person who stood in a general election and [lost] to take up a cabinet or vice-president position. Reverend Mumba is one such person, so he does not qualify under the law," Chongwe told journalists.
"It is an uninteresting constitutional matter but I have consulted widely and if there are concerns, they will be interpreted by the courts," Mwanawasa said at the swearing-in ceremony.
Mwanawasa, a former lawyer himself, has pursued a policy of trying to split Zambia's opposition after they lodged an appeal in the Supreme Court to overturn his controversial election victory in 2001, analysts say.
He disregarded a High Court order in February and went ahead with swearing in nine opposition members as cabinet ministers. He recently also oversaw a merger with the United National Independence Party, which ruled Zambia from 1964 to 1991.
"I personally believe he [Mwanawasa] is trying to do some tribal appeasement here by getting Mumba, with links in both the Copperbelt province and the Northern province. If this is the case, it is likely to still fail because Mumba's constituency of followers does not go beyond those that watch television when he is preaching," Fred Mutesa, a political analyst from the University of Zambia told IRIN.
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