By Michael Malakata, Lusaka, Zambia
Political chaos engulfed the southern Africa country of Zambia as the former ruling party and now the largest opposition political party, the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) was de-registered by the Registrar of Societies for noncompliance with the Societies’ Act (law).
At a press briefing yesterday (March 14), the Chief Registrar of Societies, Clement Andeleki said that the de-registration means the former ruling party ceases to operate as a political party in Zambia. “It also means that it has lost all the 53 seats in parliament,” Andeleki said. The action arises from the non-payment of statutorily fees amounting to over ZMK390, 000, 000 (about US$75, 000) in annual returns, which has been accumulating since 1993. Mr. Andeleki says the decision has been taken after several reminders from the time the MMD was in government went unheeded.
The implication of the de-registration is that Zambia will yet again lose over US$40 million to conduct the 53 by-elections in less than eight months after the September 2011 general elections that brought the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party into government. At the moment though, the Zambian government doesn’t seem to have that kind of money to spend on the by-elections as the PF government is still struggling to stabilise the seemingly fragile economy.
The current Zambian president Michael Sata was once the Chief Executive of the MMD when he served as National Secretary during the 20 years that the party was not meeting statutory fees. Sata decided to form his own party in 2001 when the then President Fredrick Chiluba did not pick him as his successor.
Andeleki said he will be writing to the Speaker of the National Assembly Patrick Matibini to inform him about the MMD’s de-registration. He warned any other erring registered organisations, for example Churches, NGOs and other political parties, to be legally compliant with the Societies Act if they are to continue operating in Zambia.
The decision to de-register the party was first announced last week, but Andeleki rescinded the decision because of what he called “in the interest of good governance and democracy.” But the u-turning on his earlier decision not to de-register the party is widely seen as political.
“I have been approached by several stakeholders involved in good governance and democracy not to de-register the party as this would be an injury to the young democracy and the economy of the country, more especially that we recently held elections,” Andeleki said last week.
The MMD had engaged lawyers to help resolve the issue but to no avail. The lawyers had requested Andeleki to see how best they could resolve the arrears. The country’s second largest political party, the United Party for National Development (UPND) has reacted sharply to the MMD’s de-registration and accused President Sata of being behind the action. “There is no doubt the registrar has been under pressure from Sata to de-register the MMD but this is unfortunate,” said UPND president Hakainde Hichilema at a media briefing. However, the MMD has 21 days to appeal to the Minister of Home Affairs or the court against the decision. So far, no one from the MMD has commented on the MMD’s de-registration.