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Zambia's former ruling party MMD dissolved: chief registrar

Zambia's Movement for Multiparty Democracy was dissolved Wednesday, less than six months after losing power, in what the party called an "assault on democracy" that could strip away its parliamentary seats.

Political parties are required to pay annual registration fees, but the MMD has not paid since 1993 and now owes more than 390 million kwacha ($74,300, 56,800 euros), chief registrar of societies Clement Andeleki said.

"I have cancelled the registration of the MMD for non-compliance with the Societies Act," he told a news conference in Lusaka.

"The effect of my decision is also to nullify 53 seats in parliament held by the MMD as of today. I shall in view of this decision be informing the Speaker of the National Assembly Patrick Matibini to take note of this development."

The party will retain its seats until the speaker is notified.

"This drastic decision has been taken as an act of great exception by my office to send strong signal to erring registered societies," he said.

The MMD, which ruled the country from 1991, lost last year's election to the Patriotic Front, seeing President Michael Sata take power peacefully from Rupiah Banda.

Since taking office Sata has launched a tough anti-corruption drive, but MMD members complain they have been singled out. Andeleki is among the senior appointments made by Sata.

Parliament was in session as Andeleki made his dramatic announcement, prompting a Patriotic Front lawmaker to ask if the MMD parliamentarians should remain in chamber.

"The ruling on this matter is reserved to a later date," replied deputy speaker Mkhondo Lungu.

The former ruling party has vowed to fight its deregistration, arguing the action was an "assault on democracy" and insisted its payments were up-to-date.

"This is a sad day for us but our lawyers, led by the chairperson for legal affairs George Kunda, are preparing the court process and they should be filing the papers," MMD spokeswoman Dora Siliya told AFP.

Siliya also announced that Banda had stepped down as party leader.

"I wish also to inform you that president Banda has stepped down as party president and he will hold a press conference at his residence tomorrow (Thursday) at which he will talk about many issues," she said.

Should the MMD court bid fail, by-elections would be held to replace its 53 seats in parliament, out of a total of 150.

"It does not make sense to have over 53 by-elections and elections for councillors," said Obby Chibuluma, a political analyst at the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolutions of Disputes.

"This will not be in the interest of the country," he said.

The hasty decision to dissolve the party was also slammed by the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND).

"If the registrar of societies indeed wants democracy to prevail, you don't rush to deregister the party," said UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema.

"The registrar of societies has some political inclination and if he understands things, he should have sought to dialogue with the MMD other than deregistering it outrightly," he added.

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