Death of a president

The death of Zambia’s president, Levy Mwanawasa, whose party does not have a vice-president who should automatically contest a presidential election, is generating fears of possible instability as Zambians head to the polls within 90 days, analysts say.

Mwanawasa (59) died on Tuesday this week after remaining in a semi-comatose state for almost two months in a French hospital. He suffered a severe stroke on June 29, on the eve of an African Union summit in Egypt, and was evacuated to France on July 2.
The Zambian Constitution, which is under review, requires that an election for the office of the president be held within three months from the date of his death.

Analysts say the process of finding Mwanawasa’s replacement could be marred by in-fighting within the ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy, as there is no party vice-president who would have been an automatic candidate for the party in the forthcoming election.

“We have so far seen a lot of people gunning for the MMD presidency and this is likely to intensify after the period of mourning. There are too many camps in the MMD backing different candidates. So, if someone goes through whom the other camps do not approve of, we foresee a situation where there will be a lot of bickering and in-fighting, which may destablise the country,” said a political analyst, who refused to be identified for fear of victimisation. “Ultimately, the stability of the country will depend on how the MMD will handle the issue of finding president Mwanawasa’s successor.” The potential candidates are Ronnie Shikapwasha, Home Affairs Minister, Brian Chituwo, Health Minister, N’gandu Magande, Finance Minister, and the national secretary of the MMD, Katele Kalumba.

In the run-up to the 2006 election Mwanawasa froze the position of party vice-president after it emerged that those vying for the post were opposed to his presidential bid because of concerns about his health. After winning the ballot he gave the vice-presidency to Rupiah Banda, from the opposition United National Independence Party led by founding president Kenneth Kaunda’s son, Tilyenji. In the race for the presidency Banda is largely perceived as an outsider.

Regionally Mwanawasa’s death is seen as a blow to the ongoing peace talks in neighbouring Zimbabwe between self-styled president Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangarai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). He was seen as sympathetic to MDC’s cause. Mwanawasa, chair of the 14-member regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), until August 16, was a strong critic of Mugabe’s policies. He once likened Zimbabwe to a “sinking titanic” and in his last speech as SADC chair read on his behalf on August 16, he labelled the events surrounding the flawed Zimbabwe elections and the run-off as “a serious blot on the culture of democracy in our sub-region”.

At home Mwanawasa, who ruled Zambia since 2002, led an anti-corruption drive that saw his predecessor, Frederick Chiluba, and several senior officials of his administration prosecuted on corruption charges. During his first term of office Mwanawasa created a task force specifically to investigate and prosecute corrupt practices committed during Chiluba’s 10-year rule. By August 2008 up to five convictions had been secured—one of them a former press aide of Chiluba, Richard Sakala. More than $60-million has been recovered from various parts of the world.

“The death of president Mwanawasa is a very big blow to the development of the country, especially to the fight against corruption. President Mwanawasa was very passionate and resolute about the fight against corruption; Zambians will greatly miss him for that,” said Reuben Lifuka, head of Transparency International in Zambia.

“His death leaves a big hole not only in the ruling MMD, but also in the country and Southern Africa as a region.”

Mwanawasa’s anti-corruption drive endeared him to Western donors, resulting in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank cancelling the country’s $7,2-billion external debt in 2005 to put Zambia on its path to economic recovery.

His pro-market economic policies opened up several investments in key sectors such as tourism, agriculture and mining. But he was widely criticised for charging one of the world’s lowest royalties—at 0,6%—until early this year when his administration increased the royalty tax to the global figure of 3%, said Chibamba Kanyama, a Lusaka-based economist and corporate affairs consultant.

“President Mwanawasa laid a good foundation for economic stability and growth. What we need now is a leadership that will build on the foundation he laid. If it’s to change in any way, it can be only for the better. Our policies remain favourable to all investors.”

Analysts say Mwanawasa’s death could result in a freeze on the flow of Chinese investment into the country. China is a major investor in Zambia’s Copperbelt province, but Chinese businesses have often been criticised for violating labour laws and paying poor salaries to Zambian employees.

Ahead of the bitterly contested 2006 election, which Mwanawasa won to start his second and final five-year term that would have ended in 2011, opposition leader Michael Sata turned Chinese investment into a major political campaign tool. He threatened to expel Chinese businesses and also pledged to recognise Taiwan if he came to power.

Sata will be a key figure in the forthcoming presidential election.

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