Zambian churches have expressed doubts about a recent declaration by President Frederick Chiluba who said that, contrary to previous statements, the country's constitution would not be changed to allow him to run for a third term in office.

Chiluba was first elected in 1991 promising privatization of state industries and major economic reforms. But his government has been plagued with accusations of mismanagement, corruption, and infighting.

The president appeared on national television May 4, after the ruling party's national convention re-elected him unopposed as leader of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), the nation's ruling party. He denied he would make a bid for a third term. Speaking slowly and emphatically, the Zambian leader said: "I promised that when I served my two terms, I would leave office. I will stand by my word." He said that he had not done or said anything to contradict these statements.

However, he added: "Whereas I agree that the constitution should not be amended willy-nilly, I do not agree that the constitution cannot be amended."

Throughout his television address, President Chiluba stressed the need for a referendum on the question of a third term, but gave no indication of whether or when he would call one. "A national referendum would seem to be the only means by which all Zambians can be afforded the opportunity to decide once and for all," he said.

Many of those opposed to a presidential third term fear that a referendum would favor Chiluba, as many members of the electoral commission are Chiluba supporters.

A former member of Chiluba's cabinet said after the television address that the president was trying to calm political tensions temporarily because an African summit was to be held here ...

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