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The party system and party politics in Zambia

‘The party system and party politics in Zambia: continuities past, present and future’, African Affairs, 100: 399 (2001), pp. 239-63.



Zambia's record of democracy in the 1990s has been much criticized, at home and abroad. The government of the ruling party, the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), has been accused of perpetuating the hallmarks of the de jure one-party state of the Second Republic (1972–91). Critics claim that one-party dominance by the MMD under President Chiluba's leadership has almost returned the country to a de jure one-party state. This article argues that there are indeed significant continuities with the past. However, since 1990 the party system has resembled more closely a ‘predominant party system’. Far from being a legacy of the Second Republic's one-party state, its ancestry, and other aspects of contemporary party politics, can be traced back much further, even as far back as colonial times. They owe more to enduring patterns of formal institutions and informal practice influencing political behaviour over a longer period than just the Second Republic. In Zambia as elsewhere in Africa democratization requires political organization to provide strong compensation for the unfavourable socio-economic conditions. For sustainable democracy the political opposition must take its responsibilities more seriously. The article concludes by reflecting on the likely contribution of the party system to democratic transition and consolidation in Zambia beyond the 2001 general elections.