by Maximilian Mainza
Zambia, a country well-known for being peaceful and politically stable, mourns its late resident, Michael Chilufya Sata, who died on 28 October, 2014 and will be put to rest on 11 November, 2014. It was a well-known secret that the late president was sick, even though the Zambian government hid the sickness and the actual health condition which caused his death. He becomes the second Zambian president to die in office. The Vice President Guy Scott, who has Scottish parentage, was announced as Acting President according to the provisions of the constitution, taking over from Edgar Lungu, Secretary-General of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), who was Acting President at the time of Sata’s death. According to the Zambian constitution, presidential by-elections should be held within 90 days from the day the office of the president has been rendered vacant.
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The announcement of Guy Scott as Acting President of Zambia, has been a bone of contention for some sections of society who have different interpretations of the constitution, with some still insisting that Edgar Lungu should have been allowed to continue acting as president until after a new president is elected. Despite the announcement by Acting President Guy Scott that no political meetings/campaigns were allowed during the mourning period – 29 October to 11 November, 2014 – many PF members have been strategically positioning themselves in an attempt to influence the course of the presidential candidacy for the party. Every day of the mourning period has been mired with new twists and turns, each of which seems to create more friction between those aspiring to be adopted as presidential candidates. The political environment boiled over when it was announced that Acting President Guy Scott had dismissed Edgar Lungu from his position as PF Secretary-General. The result was spontaneous riots and protests in Lusaka and other PF strongholds, with many others taking to the social media to express and share their dissatisfaction. The internal wrangles and divisions within the ruling PF government are a source of concern for Zambians, the majority of whom appear to feel that the mourning period of the late president should be respected.
There are leaders within the PF government who are frequently mentioned in the media as potential presidential candidates. Edgar lungu, who, in addition to party Secretary-General, serves as Minister of Defence and Minister of Justice, seems to be the favorite to be adopted for the presidential by-election. Others hopefuls are former Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba, Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda, former Defence Minister Geoffrey Mwamba, Chishimba Kambwili, Miles Sampa, and Mulenga Sata, the Mayor of Lusaka. However, the succession process is reportedly being marred by underhanded methods by outside forces like Fred Mmembe, editor and owner of The Post newspaper, with editorial attacks against PF leaders such as Finance Minister Chikwanda, Chishimba Kambwili and Edgar Lungu. According to most media reports, Fred Mmembe is believed to be supporting former Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba, and is using Acting President Guy Scott as an important player in the king-making games.
These succession games provide an opportunity for the opposition to take advantage of the situation. The main opposition is already known, with the United Party for National Development (UPND) President, Hakainde Hichilema, being seen as the major threat to the still unknown candidate from the PF. The other opposition will be from the former ruling party, Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD), with its president, Nevers Mumba, who still has to overcome internal wrangles within his party. Other opposition parties that might have an influence on the next Zambian president include Elias Chipimo Jr. and his National Restoration Party (NAREP), and Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) President Edith Nawakwi. If the opposition wins the upcoming presidential by-election, there will be more twists and turns, given that there is no major opposition in parliament. While the UPND have 32 members of parliament and the MMD has 37, the ruling PF has 78, the rest being independent members of parliament.
The question is whether the candidate to be adopted by the PF will have enough time to sell his/her vision to the electorate, or will have to rely on the spillover effects of the late President Sata’s legacy to attract sympathy votes. The succession games provide a lot of talking points in predicting who the next President of Zambia will be. We wait for more revelations after the burial of the late President Michael Sata, may his soul rest in peace.