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Zambia: the President is dead; long live the President

Zambia: the President is dead; long live the President

Analyzing Zambia's upcoming election

President Michael Sata's funeral (PA)

Zambia’s presidential election campaigns kick off.

Zambia’s former President Michael Sata died on 28 October after years of ill-health. As required by the constitution, a presidential election has been called within 90 days of the position becoming vacant, and this has been scheduled to take place on 20 January 2014. This is the second time that an incumbent Zambian president has died in office - President Levy Mwananawasa did so in 2008.

Since his death, Sata’s party, the Patriotic Front (PF), has been embroiled in a fierce power struggle. Rivalries which simmered during his presidency, particularly since his health began to fail, have now boiled over, leading to court battles and sporadic violence between supporters of rival factions.

PF infighting

Two factions are vying for power within the PF. One is led by Sata’s uncle, Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda, and Justice Minister Edgar Lungu, who is also the Secretary-General of the PF - an influential party position. The other is led by acting President Guy Scott and Lungu’s predecessor as Justice Minister and PF Secretary-General, Wynter Kabimba. Kabimba was suddenly sacked from both positions by Sata in August 2014, partly due to his divisive efforts to secure support within the PF to succeed Sata.

Since Sata’s death, Lungu, who enjoys widespread support among PF MPs and members of the party’s powerful Central Committee, has reportedly been lobbying to secure the party’s nomination through the Central Committee, rather than a general conference. However, according to PF party rules, presidential candidates are required to be nominated through the general conference, in which 5,000 party delegates will cast their votes to select a nominee.

Sources say Lungu is keen to avoid a general conference vote as he has not campaigned widely enough in the country and therefore may lack grassroots support within the party.

Scott’s faction appears to support the late President Sata’s wife, Dr Christine Kaseba-Sata. They are particularly keen to avoid a Lungu presidency, as they consider him to be a divisive figure, and feel that Dr Kaseba-Sata would be a strong contender for the nomination within the party. Her public profile and close association with the late president, who won the 2011 election with a significant majority, also make her a strong contender for the presidential election itself should she get that far.

Other  candidates reportedly on the ballot for nomination vote at the general conference on 29 November are Sata’s nephew, economist Miles Sampa, Bob Sichinga, Geoffrey Mwamba, Wilbur Simuusa, Chishimba Kambwili, Edgar Lungu, Given Lubinda and Selemani Banda.

State of the other parties

The main opposition party, the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMP), is also struggling with internal divisions. Reports suggest that former President Rupiah Banda, who lost the 2011 election to Sata, is trying to unseat current MMP leader Nevers Mumba, in an effort to secure the party’s nomination for the presidency.

Meanwhile the third force in Zambian politics, the United Party for National Development seems united around its leader and candidate for the presidency, Hakainde Hichilema. He launched his campaign on 23 November with a large rally in the Kenyama area of Lusaka.

Effect on business

In the near term, government business until the election on 20 January will almost certainly be stalled. Unless the PF loses the election, it is difficult to see how the government’s economic policies will change. However, there is a risk that candidates from all sides will make populist economic promises that may have negative consequences for the economy.

For example, the UPND candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, has already promised to reduce taxes, and reverse the unpopular public sector wage freeze, following a 38 per cent increase in 2013, both of which will have serious fiscal implications. This may pressure other candidates in the race to match these promises.

While the Zambian economy is stable and growing, Zambia was downgraded by Fitch Ratings to a ‘B’ rating in October 2013 following a budget which increased government spending. The budget was also criticised by Fitch for not addressing issues such as fuel and other subsidies, which will increase the fiscal deficit; in 2013 this stood at 6.7 per cent of GDP. Further spending, driven by election promises, will no doubt have a negative effect on private sector confidence in the government’s ability to manage the economy.

Peaceful transition of power

However, investors and businesses can draw comfort from Zambia’s track record of peaceful transitions of power. Though there has been controversy following presidential elections in the past, election results have been respected, since multi-party elections began in 1991.

Published: 3rd December 2014