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Zambia Blocking Opposition Party Registration, Says Priest

Roman Catholic priest Frank Bwalya (in red) and supporters hold red cards to display their displeasure with the government as they attend a rally in front of the National Assembly, in Lusaka, Zambia, March 22, 2011.
A Roman Catholic priest has accused Zambia’s government of preventing him from registering his political party to challenge the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) Party in the next general election.

“The government is doing everything to frustrate our efforts to form a political party,” said Father Frank Bwalya. “But, we are very confident that very soon, our party will be born.”

Bwalya says many share his view that President Michael Sata’s government has disappointed Zambians.

“The Patriotic Front has gone back on their election promises and we have decided to distance ourselves from them because some of the mistakes that they have made are just too fundamental for us to turn a blind eye,” said Bwalya. “They have, for instance, violated human rights; they have violated constitutional rights to the point of even blocking opposition parties from having meetings.”

Zambia’s constitution guarantees freedom of association and assembly. But, Bwalya says the administration has violated the constitution by using state security agencies to silent dissent. The government denies the accusation.

Father Bwalya was a prominent supporter of the then opposition PF party after campaigning for Mr. Sata against the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) during the last election. The PF defeated the MMD in the presidential vote.

But, Bwalya has since turned against the government after accusing Sata’s administration of failing to keep its promises, including what he says are failures to implement policies to improve the living conditions. He also cited the ongoing criminal prosecution of former President Rupiah Banda on graft charges as an example of the government’s aim to weaken opposition parties.

Bwalya has said he has been inspired by God to form a political party to better the lives of the citizens.

Critics, however, say Bwalya’s pronouncements that God wants him to lead the country are aimed as deceiving the public.

“All I have said is that I feel God is using me to provide the Zambian people with that link that they require to break from the old type of politicians to a new type of politicians -- politicians who want to serve the Zambian people and accelerate development,” Bwalya said. “I don’t think I have committed any crime or presenting myself as a conman, just because I said I have been inspired to do something.”

Ruling party supporters also said Bwalya is using the name of God to help in his campaign to become president. They accused him of scandalizing the Catholic Church and demanded he resign from the priesthood.

“As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, I’ve not scandalized them in any way,” Bwalya said. “I stopped being an active minister in the Catholic Church in May 2009. I have been on an indefinite leave of absence since that time, therefore my activities are not being blessed by the Catholic Church [and] I’m not speaking in their name.”
Clottey interview with Father Frank Bwalya
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