Who will be Zambia’s next president?

SANF 08 No 65
Zambia’s presidential candidates have filed nomination papers with the High Court for the forthcoming election as the campaign begins.

Four candidates, including acting President Rupiah Banda, will contest the election.

According to Ernest Sakala, the country’s Chief Justice, “Rupiah Banda, Michael Sata, Hakainde Hichilema and Godfrey Miyanda have validly filed the nomination to contest the 30 October presidential elections.”

Several other opposition parties withdrew from the race and decided to back Banda, who is standing on the ticket of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).

According to the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), preparations for the election are already at an advanced stage.

Zambia’s constitution states that a presidential election should be held within 90 days of the post of President falling vacant.

The presidential election in Zambia is a result of the death of President Levy Mwanawasa on 19 August, at Percy Military Hospital in France after suffering a stroke in June while attending the 11th Session of the African Union Heads of State and Government Summit in Egypt.

The question for most Zambians is who will be the best-suited candidate to continue from where Mwanawasa left?

There are no major surprises among the candidates. Perhaps the only newcomer to the presidential race is Banda who was recently chosen by the MMD as their candidate for the election.

Mwanawasa selected Banda in 2006 as Vice President because of his vast political experience. Since that time, Zambia achieved an average growth rate of three percent per annum while agricultural development boomed.

Apart from this, Banda has his own personal credentials as an economist, a seasoned diplomat, and a veteran politician.

The other candidates — Sata of the main opposition Patriotic Front (PF), Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND) and Miyanda of the Heritage Party (HP) — are not strangers to the Zambia presidential contest.

For Sata, this is the third time that he will be running for presidency while Hichilema and Miyanda will be contesting for the second time.

Sata was elected by his party on 5 September as its candidate for the presidential election.

A veteran politician, Sata is popularly known in Zambian politics as “King Cobra” because of his political tact and fortitude. He is very good at grassroots politics and has the ability to read the mood in the country.

When Frederick Chiluba lost a third term bid in 2000, Sata thought he would be endorsed as the MMD presidential candidate, but to his chagrin, Mwanawasa came in. The question that many asked then was “Why did Chiluba not endorse Sata to take over the presidency?”

The answer was given in 2001 when Chiluba noted that none of those who were in his government at the time were perceived to be “clean” by the general public. Hence the coming in of “Mr. Integrity” – Mwanawasa.

The choice of Mwanawasa upset Sata who had supported Chiluba’s third term bid so much that he left the MMD to form his own political party, the PF.

He contested the 2001 presidential election but did not do well. In the 2006 presidential election, Sata declared himself the winner before the vote counting process was over. The final official results placed him in second place, a situation that caused civil unrest among his supporters.

The third candidate, Hichilema, is fairly new on the Zambian political scene if compared to the above candidates. He is an accomplished business leader, which would place him in good stead for a country in need of economic stability and prosperity, but he lacks the political experience that Banda and Sata have.

In addition, there are other issues that militate against him — the most conspicuous being that his political party is seen as ethnic in outlook.

In the 2006 election, Hichilema took third place with 25 percent of the vote.

The fourth candidate is Miyanda, who is the president of the HP. The party was formed after his expulsion from the MMD in 2001 when he opposed the third term bid for Chiluba.

A former army general, Miyanda did not enjoy much success in the previous presidential race. In the 2006 presidential election, he came fourth with 1.6 percent of the total votes.

Critics say that Miyanda lacks the sort of pragmatism needed of a political leader and that may militate against him in the current presidential race.

Southern Africa waits with expectation as Zambians elect their next president on 30 October.