Zambia: 1973 and 1978 one-party elections

Extracted from: KAELA, LCW 2002 "Zambia" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 379-380.

The one-party state was introduced in 1973 and with came new laws and procedures governing elections. The franchise remained basically unchanged, but many other aspects were altered. Under the new constitution candidates for election to the office of president and to the National Assembly had to be members of the party (UNIP). The person elected by the party's General Conference, attended by party delegates from provinces, was to be adopted as the sole candidate for election as republican president. A recommendation by the constitutional review commission for primary elections to be held and for up to three candidates to be allowed to contest for the presidency, which was also incorporated in the Constitution of Zambia Bill, No 28 of 1973, was rejected by the party. Efforts by the former leader of the ANC, Nkumbula, and former Vice-President and former leader of the proscribed United Progressive Party (UPP), Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, and Businessman Chiluwe to challenge Kaunda for the party, hence republican presidency at the 1978 general conference was thwarted by an amendment to the party constitution. The amendment required candidates to have been party members for at least five years and to raise two hundred supporters from each province to back their nomination. Kapwepwe was disqualified by the five year membership requirement. Nkumbula and Chiluwe failed to raise two hundred supporters from each province.

During presidential and parliamentary elections, which took place at the same time, all registered voters were entitled to vote. At the primary stage of parliamentary elections, however, only party officials were eligible to vote. For presidential elections, only one candidate, Kaunda, was nominated and voters were required to vote "yes" or "no", for approval or disapproval, respectively. He was declared winner after receiving 51% or more of the valid votes cast.

Primary elections were introduced for national assembly elections. The top three candidates to go through primaries were eligible to stand for election in a constituency. Primaries enhanced the role of grassroots party organs in the choice of candidates as the latter were generally local people. Article 75 of the republican constitution allowed the party central committee to vet (veto) candidates who had won primaries if they were found undesirable. In 1978, 30 candidates, including six serving MPs, were vetoed. This system tended to arouse ill feeling among victims and their supporters. At times the party appeared to use it to facilitate the success of favoured candidates and to punish "black sheep".

Election campaigns were controlled by the party. For presidential elections, the machineries and resources of the party and government were marshalled to campaign for "yes" votes for the presidential candidate. Campaigning for "no" votes was not tolerated. Senior party officials guided the campaign for national assembly election. They would introduce the candidates at public rallies and invite them to canvass for votes. Candidates were expected to follow the party line and not to criticise its policies. Campaigns therefore tended to focus on personalities rather than issues. Nevertheless, national assembly elections were heavily contested.

The number of national assembly election candidates was quite high. In 1973, 532 and in 1978, 762 people filed nomination papers. It also became common for members of parliament (MPs) and cabinet ministers and their deputies to lose elections. The number of women elected MPs was very small throughout the period of the one-party state. Voter turn out was not very high. 39.4% and 66.7% of registered voters voted in 1973 and 1978 elections, respectively.

Autonomous and ad hoc electoral commissions were responsible for the supervision and conduct of elections, as well as the delimitation of constituencies. They also had the power to make regulations. The president appointed three commissioners; High Court judges were conventionally appointed chairs and the elections office (in the office of the prime minister) was headed by the director of elections. The director of elections was responsible for executive functions pertaining to elections.

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