A divided opposition in Zambia

Zambia’s presidential by-election to choose a successor to the late president, Levy Mwanawasa, is expected to be an easy win for the ruling party if the opposition remains fragmented.

Political analysts believe that Rupiah Banda, the presidential candidate for the governing Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), will be easily elected.

The MMD’s leadership picked Banda as a presidential candidate last week. His main rival in the party, Finance Minister Ng’andu Magande, lost with 11 votes to Banda’s 44.

Two of the country’s biggest opposition parties have since confirmed that they will participate in the presidential poll: the Patriotic Front (PF), led by veteran politician and former Cabinet minister Michael Sata, and the United Party for National Development (UPND), led by business executive Hakainde Hichilema.

“At the moment it is very likely that the MMD will carry the day—and a number of reasons can be cited to justify this: they have a candidate who was president Mwanawasa’s vice, they have a record of achievements to campaign on and, above all, they have structures in all parts of the country,” said a political analyst who declined to be identified.

“For as long as the opposition remains divided and approaches these elections with more than two candidates, the MMD will always have an upper hand because of the splitting of votes.
Maybe if PF merged with UPND they could unseat [the MMD], but from what we are seeing — that pact is not in the plan.”

Sata’s PF is strong in the capital, Lusaka, and the country’s economic heartland, the Copperbelt region. He also commands a strong following in his home base in northern Zambia but has little support elsewhere.

Hichilema enjoys overwhelming support in Southern Province, his home region, but has yet to make his political presence felt in Zambia’s eight other provinces.

In the 2006 general election Sata got 29% and Hichilema walked away with 28%, while Mwanawasa won with 48% of the vote.

Lee Habasonda, executive director of the Southern African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes, a governance watchdog, said: “There has been a paradigm shift in the opinions of people since the 2006 elections. A lot has changed and some of the issues that made certain candidates popular in 2006 may not be relevant now.”

In the 2006 election Sata railed against Chinese investors for paying poor salaries to Zambian employees and criticised the high income tax of up to 37%, which Zambia’s 400 000 civil servants have to pay. Hichilema pledged to offer free education up to secondary school.

The MMD government has since reduced income tax to a maximum of 30%, increased mineral royalties from 0,6% to the global norm of 3%, and undertaken a constitutional review process in addition to providing free basic education for all children up to grade seven.

“All in all it will depend on how the MMD leadership carry themselves now. Obviously if they begin to divide themselves, or if they don’t handle this period carefully, they may find themselves in opposition,” Habasonda said.

While the ruling party is set to use the achievements of Mwanawasa’s pro-economic policies as a campaign tool, the opposition will be raising concerns about the government’s decision to increase officials’ salaries while Mwanawasa was in hospital in France.

During Mwanawasa’s illness Banda tabled a Bill calling for the introduction of a special “Responsibility Allowance” for the president and his deputy, as well as for ministers and their deputies. The allowance was to come on top of a 15% salary increment for all legislative office holders and senior government officials.

The Bill is expected to become law before the October 30 elections.

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