Zambia's two-horse race
After Zambia’s President Levy Mwanawasa was buried in the capital Lusaka on Wednesday, the spotlight immediately shifted to the campaigns to succeed him in the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).
Since Mwanawasa died in a French hospital on August 19, the MMD, which does not have a vice-president who could have been Mwanawasa’s automatic successor, has been embroiled in a leadership crisis.
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 a sitting president dies—the 90-day grace period expires in mid-November.
In late-August the ruling party called for interested members to file application letters with the national executive committee (NEC), the party’s supreme decision-making body. The NEC is expected to pick and announce its candidate for the forthcoming election this weekend.
The list of applicants has grown to 17, among them top-ranking officials in Mwanawasa’s government, such as vice-president and acting president Rupiah Banda, finance minister Ng’andu Magande, health minister Brian Chituwo and Ronnie Shikapwasha, the home affairs minister. Others who are vying for the job are Mwanawasa’s former vice-president Nevers Mumba and Enoch Kavindele, a former deputy to Mwanawasa’s predecessor, Frederick Chiluba.
But the competition has, by all accounts, been reduced to a two-horse race between Banda and Magande.
Banda has been endorsed by top party officials in seven of Zambia’s nine provinces, including Magande’s home region, the Southern Province.
Analysts say the ruling party is headed for inevitable splits after this weekend’s decision, regardless of which of Banda or Magande gets the presidential candidature.
Banda (70) has been Mwanawasa’s deputy since the 2006 election, when the late president called him out of retirement. His appointment was widely opposed as he was a stalwart of Zambia’s founding political party, the United National Independence Party (Unip). Banda has never renounced his Unip membership.
In the 2006 election Banda is said to have delivered a victory in Unip’s stronghold in the Eastern Province for Mwanawasa and the MMD, and his appointment came as a reward for a job well done. He has widespread support among chiefs in eastern Zambia, a stronghold for the ruling party.
But in the race for the MMD presidency he is largely seen as an outsider and his popularity has remained untested as he is a nominated member of Parliament—without a constituency—and a mere trustee in the ruling party. His juniors in government are, in essence, his party superiors.
Analysts say Banda could easily be adopted as a presidential candidate for Unip if he is not picked by the MMD leadership, which could eat into the sitting party’s votes.
Magande (61) is widely credited with the success of Mwanawasa’s pro-market policies, which have stabilised the exchange rate, slashed inflation and increased foreign direct investments and donor support to Zambia. Magande served as finance minister during both of Mwanawasa’s terms.
Widowed first lady Maureen Mwanawasa, who was earlier rumoured to be considering vying for the presidency, this week told local media that her husband personally preferred Magande to succeed him and announced that the late president had left a video explaining why Magande was his “anointed” successor.
Magande’s electoral popularity also remains in question: his past attempts to stand as a parliamentarian in his homeland Southern Province failed and his win of a parliamentary seat in Lusaka rural in the 2006 poll was strongly disputed by his opponents. Evidence of serious and glaring acts of rigging and fraud was cited, but the Supreme Court recently ruled that he was duly elected.