Zambia, formerly the British protectorate of Northern Rhodesia, was under British dominion from 1888 until 24 October 1964, when it became an independent republic within the Commonwealth under the leadership of Kenneth David Kaunda and his United National Independence Party (UNIP). Kaunda consolidated control over the nation in the ensuing years, culminating in the 1972 abolition of political parties other than the UNIP. Elections continued to be held, but only UNIP members could stand for office. No one dared to oppose Kaunda as president.
In December 1990, bowing to persistent demands for democratization and riots over rising food prices, Kaunda legalized opposition political parties. The Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) quickly organized itself as the primary opposition to the UNIP. A broad-based, diverse coalition of interest groups, MMD's sole unifying principle was its opposition to UNIP and continued political domination by Kaunda. Frederick Chiluba, a founding member of MMD, ran for president and won in the country's first multiparty elections in nearly 20 years. Chiluba faced many challenges as he strove to modernize the economy and the country's political system. The worst blot on Chiluba's record was his handling of the 1996 elections, when his main opponent again was Kaunda, the former president whom Chiluba had beaten in 1991. Although most observers agreed that Kaunda's candidacy was a long shot, Chiluba chose to amend the Constitution in such a way that Kaunda was barred from running. (The new rules required that the candidates' parents be from Zambia; Kaunda, whose parents came from what is now Malawi, was therefore ineligible.) The change triggered a boycott by Kaunda's supporters and protest from the international community. Chiluba was reelected with 70% of the vote and the MMD took 131 of 150 parliamentary seats. Only 40% of registered voters participated, and international observers declared the election to be neither free nor fair, citing irregularities in voter registration, vote buying, and Kaunda's exclusion.
In addition to Chiluba's new constitutional rules regarding candidates' parentage, Zambia's 1991 Constitution provided for the president to be elected to a five-year term by universal suffrage, and restrict the president to two five-year terms. The Constitution also provided for a prime minister and cabinet, both appointed by the president, and a 150-member National Assembly, elected simultaneously with the president.
In the 2001 election, eleven candidates were on the ballot for president. Levy Mwanawasa, candidate of the MMD and Anderson Mazoka, candidate of the United Party for National Development (UPND), finished in a near tie, with Mwanawasa reportedly winning with a margin of 11,000 votes. Despite protests lodged with the country's Supreme Court, Mwanawasa was inaugurated in January 2002, however, as late as May 13, 2003, opposition parties were mounting legal campaigns to nullify the presidential election.