LUSAKA, 13 July (IRIN) - Zambia's ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) party kicked off its 5th convention on Wednesday amid growing concerns that recent internal wrangling could cause it to split.
The high-level gathering took place in the wake of accusations that President Levy Mwanawasa, keen to retain the party's top post, has been waging a campaign to sideline potential internal competitors. As the sole candidate, Mwanawasa would automatically become the party's choice in national presidential elections next year.
Last month former state vice-president, Nevers Mumba, was expelled from the party on charges of indiscipline and bringing the MMD into disrepute. Mumba had earlier announced that he would challenge Mwanawasa for the party's presidency.
Political analysts said that while Mwanawasa had adopted a zero-tolerance campaign against corruption, the purging of potential political rivals was directly linked to the president's aspiration to secure a second term in office.
"There is an unwritten rule that challenging the president carries a cost, and those who did are paying the price. There is no precedence in Zambia of unseating a serving president," Neo Simutanyi, a political analyst at the University of Zambia's Institute for Economic and Social Research, told IRIN.
Earlier this week, the MMD's National Executive Committee (NEC) expelled Captain Chewe on allegations of corruption.
"Nevers was expelled on grounds of indiscipline and putting the name of the party into disrepute, but the fact is that he was a threat. For Captain Chewe, it was his intention to challenge Mwanawasa that cost him, and not corruption. I see the MMD being divided ... and a mass exodus from the party if he - Mwanawasa - is re-elected," said Simutanyi.
The NEC has also abolished the position of party vice-president, which, critics said, was a ploy to freeze out presidential opponents.
Meanwhile, veteran politician Enoch Kavindele, sacked by Mwanawasa as vice-president two years ago, has announced that he will seek presidency of the MMD.
Kavindele said he had had no intention of contesting the party presidency, but was compelled to do so after the decision to freeze polls for the position of vice president.
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