Zambia's ruling party has amended its constitution to favor a third term for President Frederick Chiluba, even though the national constitution currently prohibits such a move. Delegates who oppose a third term for Mr. Chiluba staged a walkout, but the party vote went ahead Monday. The party conference was marred by a series of violent incidents.
The ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy, the MMD, amended its party constitution, allowing President Chiluba to run for a third term in office on the MMD ticket.
The move came at a party convention in the central town of Kabwe, about 100 kilometers north of the capital, Lusaka. The vote lasted all night Sunday, and the motion passed easily in the absence of several hundred delegates opposed to the idea of a third term for Mr. Chiluba.
The dissenters - including several cabinet ministers - say they stayed away out of fear for their safety. A number of them were beaten up, allegedly by supporters of Mr. Chiluba, outside the convention venue Saturday, when the vote was originally scheduled to take place. One female cabinet minister says she was threatened with rape.
Some members of the opposition bloc say they wanted to attend the second day of the meeting, but pro-Chiluba militants barred them from going in.
The dissenters, led by Vice President Christon Tembo, say the convention was held in violation of party rules, and they may challenge the election results in court. They met Monday at the vice president's home to decide what course of action to take.
If they cannot overturn the party decision, Mr. Chiluba will almost certainly be the MMD candidate in presidential elections tentatively scheduled for October. But before he can run again, the president will need to amend the Zambian national constitution as well. It currently limits the president to two terms.
Analysts say that is likely to be more difficult than getting the backing of his party. He will need a two-thirds majority in the 158-seat parliament, which is overwhelmingly dominated by the MMD. But if all of the ruling party dissenters maintain their opposition and vote against the amendment, it will not pass.
Mr. Chiluba took office 10 years ago riding a wave of popular support. Campaigning for democratic reforms, he swept longtime President Kenneth Kaunda from power. At the time, Mr. Chiluba vowed to honor the two-term limit.
Opponents both inside and outside the ruling party say a third term would undermine Zambia's democracy. Western donor nations have also urged the president not to run again, saying it will hurt international confidence in the government.