Zambian politics at cross-roads ahead of polls

2014-12-12 16:05

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Lusaka - Zambian political leaders are steeped in power struggles that threaten to derail a peaceful transition and an orderly conduct of the poll next month, amid street fights, court actions, and suspensions.

The death of president Michael Sata in October has left the political landscape of the copper-rich southern African country in disarray ahead of elections in January.

The former ruling party, the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), has two candidates - former president Rupiah Bwezani Banda and the deposed leader Nevers Sekwila Mumba - each campaigning for the presidential election with equal effort and impetus.

The national executive committee of the MMD says it has suspended Mumba, a decision the charismatic man of God has refused to accept, with him continuing to addressing parallel rallies, asking Zambians to support his presidential bid. He has also refused to accept calls for dialogue with Banda.

Nominations for candidates

The ruling Patriotic Front (PF) is equally trapped in a similar puzzle, reported the Press Association of Zambia (Paza).

Defence and Justice Minister Edgar Lungu is in court against Commerce Deputy Minister Miles Sampa, both whom are claiming candidacy for the ruling party, formed by Sata in 2001 after he left the MMD to form his own party.

Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) spokesperson Chris Akufuna says only one candidate from each participating political party - usually, the candidate in possession of an adoption certificate issued by the secretary general of the party, will be allowed to file nominations.

About 10 leaders of political parties turned up for a meeting called by the ECZ, all keen to contest the poll.

Nominations for the candidates are set for 17 to 21 December at the Supreme Court Buildings in the heart of the Capital, Lusaka.

Date of elections

Before this scenario, late president Sata’s wife Christin Kaseba, his step-son Mulenga Sata, her nephew Miles Sampa (now a faction leader), and her brother-in-law Minister of Commerce Bob Sichinga all contested primaries at a parallel general conference where Sampa prevailed.

During the same weekend, another conference attended by over 3 000 supporters elected Lungu as PF president. Edgar Lungu was later declared the presidential candidate by the High Court but an appeal hearing is still being awaited filed by Sampa, causing a deadlock.

The presidential elections must be held within 90 days after the death of a president.

The ECZ has set January 20 as the date for the election.

"We are not going to extend the date of elections because the PF is not ready to give us a candidate," said Justice Ireen Mambilima, chairman of the ECZ, during a meeting with candidates in Lusaka on Thursday.

Frosty general conference

The PF situation follows a frosty general conference to elect a candidate that ended chaotically after two elections were conducted from the same venue as a result of a split among delegates and the party’s top brass.

Battlefronts in the PF appear more deep-rooted, and were complicated by the events of 21 November 2014 when the central committee, the highest policy-making body, suspended now Zambian acting President Guy Scott from the party he was presiding over.

The following day, Scott suspended 16 key officials from the ruling party who were seen as pioneers of the decision to suspend him.

Before his death, president Michael Sata left Lungu as acting president and this happened repeatedly each time Sata travelled outside the country.

His supporters say that action amounted to an endorsement.

Foreign origins

Lungu however handed over the acting presidency role to Scott, who had never acted as president since his appointment as vice president when the PF came into power in 2008.

The Zambian Constitution disallows citizens whose parents were born outside Zambia to contest the presidency but also makes it mandatory that when a sitting president dies, the vice president will act for 90 days.

The Constitution does not spell out what happens when the vice president has foreign origins.

In essence, Scott can act as president but cannot contest the 20 January 2015 presidential poll. He holds limited power of presiding over an election in which he cannot contest.

He is perceived to be sided with the Miles Sampa camp, a claim he has denied.

Transition process

Scott says his actions are shaped by his desire to preside over a credible transition process within PF and at national level.

When the last presidential and general elections took place on 20 September 2011, the PF won 60 seats followed by the MMD with 55, and the United Party for National Development (UPND) which won 28 seats.

Successive parliamentary by-elections to fill vacant seats - resulting from deaths and resignations - have shaken the power balance in favour of the PF which now holds about 70 seats in the 150-seat National Assembly.

Zambia has lost two sitting presidents within the space of six years - 19 August 2008 when Levy Patrick Mwanawasa died in France, and Michael Chilufya Sata who died on 25 October 2014 in England.

Read more on:    edgar lungu  |  guy scott  |  michael sata  |  christine kaseba  |  zambia  |  southern africa  |  zambia elections 2015

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