Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 08:56 GMT

Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Zambia

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 10 July 2008
Cite as Freedom House, Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Zambia, 10 July 2008, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Period of democratic transition: 1991
Pro-democracy civic movement: present

Since independence in 1964, Zambia has been ruled by President Kenneth Kaunda and the United National Independence Party (UNIP), which declared the state to be a "one-party participatory democracy" in 1968 and institutionalized this status in the 1972 constitution. Over time, Kaunda's rule grew increasingly repressive and corrupt.

In late 1989, the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions and its chairman, Frederick Chiluba, began to call for multipartyism in Zambia. Despite the ban on opposition political activity, a number of pro-democracy groups came together under the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). In tandem with economic stagnation and falling living standards, a number of trade unionists and opposition supporters took part in riots, which turned violent and were met with a forceful official response. Following this incident, Kaunda initially agreed to a nationwide referendum on the introduction of democracy planned for October 1990. However, in September continued robust opposition led Kaunda to cancel the referendum in favor of the legalization of opposition political party activity and full parliamentary and presidential elections in 1991. During the campaign, violence was prevalent as MMD activists were beaten, fired upon, arrested, and forced to suffer property damage at the hands of suspected UNIP vigilantes. MMD candidate Chiluba resoundingly carried the presidential election over Kaunda with 81 percent of the vote, while the MMD won 125 out of 150 seats in Parliament.

While the election was deemed free and fair, subsequent elections in Zambia have brought about a significant decline in political rights, including restrictions on opposition parties and candidates and instances of electoral fraud.

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