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The recent presidential by-election won narrowly by Rupiah Banda exposed glaring weaknesses in the Zambian electoral process, Catholic bishops said.

The election, following the death of President Levy Mwanawasa, has left the country more divided than before, the bishops said in a pastoral statement issued on Sunday. They warned that, ‘If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.’ (Mark 3:24).

As in previous elections, the prelates said, the pattern of voting on October 30 was along very partisan, regional and tribal lines. “We now appear more divided and polarized, as a nation, than we were before multi-partyism was re-introduced in 1991. This state of affairs is worrying and should not be allowed to continue.”

While commending the people for voting peacefully, the bishops expressed concern about the high level of apathy – only 43 percent of the voters bothered to cast their ballots, compared to 70 percent in 2006.

Voter apathy is partly the result of thinking that one’s vote does not count. It is also due to the public perception of alleged irregularities in the conduct of elections, the bishops said. “Our message to all Zambians is: Never get tired of voting, as your apathy will only deny you the choice of your preferred candidate.”

Bribery and other forms of corrupt practices were used to induce votes during the campaigns, the bishops said, and warned that the vices were increasingly being seen as normal during election campaigns.

The bishops called for continuous voter registration in accordance with a law that was passed in 2001, but which has never been implemented. They also proposed far-reaching electoral reforms to enhance credibility of national elections in Zambia before the next polls in 2011.

The bishops urged the new government to ensure that a new Constitution is in place by the end of 2009, at the latest.

They also said they were available to facilitate reconciliation between leaders of political parties. The opposition presidential contender Michael Sata who lost narrowly to President Banda rejected the results.

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