Zambia's church leaders are spearheading the effort to end born-again President Fredrick Chiluba's bid for a third term. But it is far from certain that this deeply religious nation in eastern Africa is ready to abandon its Christian president.

Slightly more than 50 percent of Zambians want Chiluba to pursue a third term in the November elections, says Mike Zulu, chairman of the National Organization for Civic Education, an independent research group. In late February, an alliance of church and civic leaders circulated the Oasis Declaration, a strongly worded message opposing a third term, among 10,700 Christian congregations.

Elected leaders from the Christian Council of Zambia, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, and the Zambia Episcopal Conference drafted the declaration in January. A broad group of influential civic organizations later joined the campaign.

The declaration urges Chiluba to "exercise statesmanship by unambiguously pledging to uphold, protect, and defend the constitution of Zambia and not contest the 2001 presidential elections." It appeals to Zambians to protect their democracy. But Chiluba has not openly rejected the prospect of running for a third term.

Ten years ago, Christian leaders played key roles in the peaceful ending of Kenneth Kaunda's 27-year presidency and ushering in Chiluba's. They read political messages from pulpits, advocating change and democracy, but also called for peace and reconciliation.

As a new president, Chiluba vigorously pushed through the Zambian National Assembly a constitutional amendment limiting the president to two successive five-year terms, "in the interest of democracy and good governance."

Most church and civic leaders today would give Chiluba, who once declared Zambia ...

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