Zambian leader re-elected as ruling-party head

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa was re-elected as leader of his ruling party, results showed on Friday, winning the lion’s share of votes at a stormy party convention that set the stage for next year’s elections.

Mwanawasa (58) beat his only rival, former vice-president Enock Kavindele, by a wide margin in a vote held on Thursday night at a national convention of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).

The trained lawyer—who was elected as president in contested polls in 2001—won 1 211 votes while Kavindele garnered 68, said returning officer for the vote Christopher Mundia, who added that 15 ballots were spoiled.

But Kavindele dismissed the outcome of the election as a sham after key rivals to Mwanawasa were sidelined in the tumultuous months leading up to the party convention.

“Of course, nobody can say the results were a reflection of the members. Most members were either suspended or expelled in order to prevent them from attending the convention,” Kavindele said from Kabwe, about 200km north of Lusaka where the convention was being held.

“I can certainly say that our party is very divided and if the president doesn’t work hard, he will lose the 2006 presidential elections,” he said.

As party president, Mwanawasa will also be the MMD’s flag-bearer in the 2006 elections, squaring off against opposition leader Edith Nawakwi, a woman seen as a formidable rival.

In the run-up to the convention, two popular members seen as potential challengers to Mwanawasa—Nevers Mumba and Austin Chewe—were expelled from the party, sparking a wave of resignations among rank-and-file members.

There were also clashes on the eve of the gathering between Mwanawasa supporters and members who were backing rivals for the top post, but quick action by police prevented the violence from escalating.

“The convention was packed by his supporters, and genuine members were left out of the list. Therefore, the result is not shocking since it was a tailor-made convention,” said Simon Kabanda, a political commentator with the Citizens’ Forum.

The party delegates on Friday were to elect members of the party’s national executive committee who will work with Mwanawasa to steer the party in the next five years.

Mwanawasa’s supporters were likely to win those positions, strengthening the president’s hand as he heads into the presidential and parliament polls next year.

Zambia’s third president since independence in 1964, Mwanawasa told delegates on Thursday that he wants to use a second mandate to consolidate the gains of his five years in office.

He said he wants to bring further development to his Southern African country of 11-million people where more than 70% live below the poverty line.

“I have a passion to make Zambia develop,” he told delegates.

Landlocked Zambia is among the 15 African countries that won a multibillion-dollar debt write-off from the Group of Eight wealthy nations earlier this month.—Sapa-AFP

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