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Some Zambians Reject Any Notion of Skipping Upcoming By-Elections

Zambia's by-election necessitated by the death of President Levy Mwanawasa is likely to take place in November this year. But if some people had their way, acting president Rupiah Banda would be allowed to complete late President Mwanawasa's term without an election because they argued holding the special election would be too expensive.

Ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy spokesman Benny Tetamashimba was quoted as saying that there is no need to spend 400 billion Kwacha, about US$114 million to hold the by-elections when many Zambians had no food to eat.

Goodwill Lungu is executive director for Transparency International, Zambia. He told VOA that democracy and the constitution must prevail over cost.

"We totally oppose any maneuver to disregard the constitution. We feel that democracy is a very expensive venture wherever it has been allowed to go on in the world. And also the current government, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy government, is well aware that in the past they have called a lot of by-elections at parliamentary level, and the government had been able to find money to ensure that these by-elections go ahead. So we don't see any logic in the argument that it would be extremely expensive to hold these by-elections," he said.

Lungu said Zambia's opposition progressive political parties and a lot of civil society organizations, including trade unions and the church are opposed to what he called the violation of the constitution for an individual's political gains.

He rejected a reported proposal by some that there should be an all-inclusive transitional government to save the country from undertaking the cost of the elections.

Lungu said Zambian cabinet ministers and members of parliament recently approved salary increases for themselves.

"It doesn't august very well for us that where the government finds it's very convenient to advance that we should prevent a lot of funds from being wasted they wanted everyone to follow them. Also ourselves why we are totally opposed to that is for the simple reason that we know very well that the current government gave themselves hefty salaries which went to the national assembly, and they were approved within the quickest possible time, which is simply a demonstration that actually the resources are there even to hold the election," he said.

One reported account put the cost of the upcoming by-elections to around 400 billion Kwachas, or an equivalent of about US$114 million. But Lungu said the elections should be held as scheduled to send a message to the outside world that Zambia

"Of course we are talking about quite a lot of money that might go into this particular election, but as I indicated earlier on, democracy is very expensive, and there are no two ways or a short cut to avoid this kind of expenditure. So we do understand very well that it would cost us a lot of money, and we feel that if we have the interest of Zambia at heart and we want to respect the constitution, let us go that way because we would providing an example to the rest of the world that we respect our democracy," Lungu said.