Who wants to be president?

The body of Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa is touring all provincial centres in a move that critics construe as buying sympathy with the electorate ahead of the elections to be held before December.

But the government insists that the move is meant to enable many citizens to pay their last respects to the president. As the corpse does the rounds, many ordinary citizens have reportedly collapsed upon seeing the casket.

Even before the president, who died on August 19 in Paris, is buried and his mourning period is over, the search for his successor in the governing Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) has started, while the opposition has called off its routine party programmes to concentrate on the presidential by-election.

The Zambian Constitution requires that an election for the office of the president be held within three months of the date of his death and government has already confirmed that the election would take place before December. The new president’s term would end in 2011, the year Mwanawasa’s mandate would have expired.

The MMD, which has no vice-president who would have been Mwanawasa’s automatic successor, last week called for application letters from all interested members to be considered for the presidency.

The ruling party leadership is expected to assess all applicants on September 5, two days after Mwanawasa’s burial, and pick its candidate. Already a number of high-profile names have been linked with the top post. The party’s leaders are apparently divided on whether to hand the job to vice-president Banda or widowed First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa.

MMD spokesperson Benny Tetamashimba this week proposed Banda’s candidature, but another senior member of the party, and a minister in charge of northern province in Mwanawasa’s administration, Lameck Chibombamilimo, threw his weight behind the first lady. It is not yet known whether the two have filed their applications for the presidency, nor have they commented on their potential candidature.

Other emerging names in connection with the top job in the ruling party are Lusaka business executive Bwalya Chiti, Home Affairs Minister Ronnie Shikapwasha, Health Minister Brian Chituwo and Finance Minister N’gandu Magande. Chituwo, Magande, deputy to former president Frederick Chiluba Enock Kavindele and Ludwig Sondashi, a minister in Chiluba’s government, have formally expressed interest in the top job. The candidate will be announced on September 6.

The opposition Patriotic Front (PF) is led by Michael Sata, a populist Cabinet veteran in both founding president Kenneth Kaunda and Mwanawasa’s predecessor Frederick Chiluba’s governments, this week announced it had suspended its national convention, scheduled for September, to concentrate on the campaigns for the presidential race.

The PF convention was supposed to pick the party’s presidential candidate ahead of the 2011 poll, and therefore its decision to postpone the meeting leaves Sata as the automatic candidate for the country’s biggest opposition political organisation.

Analysts say the MMD could win the forthcoming election by riding on the sympathy vote resulting from the death of Mwanawasa. He was one of the country’s most respected lawyers and was renowned for successfully handling high-profile cases during founding president Kenneth Kaunda’s reign.

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