At a campaign rally in 2008, the late Zambian president Michael Sata remarked that, without him, the Patriotic Front would die. “Sata is PF and PF is Sata; there cannot be one without the other.”
Since Sata’s death in October, the Patriotic Front has witnessed an unprecedented fight for the presidency, which has also drawn in members of his family.
“Sata’s legacy is confusion. He left no clear succession plan,” veteran politician Vernon Mwaanga said. “It’s like Animal Farm.”
The power of both the Patriotic Front and the government has been temporarily transferred to the politically weak vice-president, Guy Scott, until a presidential by-election is held on January 20. Meanwhile, the tensions that simmered during the former president’s long illness have boiled over as the party has still not agreed on who should be its next presidential candidate.
Succession is stipulated in the constitutions of both the party and the nation; the vice-president assumes power in the event of a vacancy and steers the party through to the presidential election – as was the case in 2008 when Zambia’s third president, Levy Mwanawasa, died and then vice-president Rupiah Banda seamlessly filled the void.
However, it has been different this time as Scott cannot run for the presidency because his parents were not born in Zambia. Sata never allowed Scott to act as president when he travelled out of the country and also dilly-dallied in enacting the new Constitution, which not only removes the contentious clause relating to the parentage of a presidential candidate but also provides for a presidential running mate that negates the need for a by-election in the event of a vacancy in the presidency.
10 claims to the presidency
A total of 10 Patriotic Front presidential candidates claim to be custodians of Sata’s vision and to have a legitimate claim to the presidency.
Three of them are relatives of Sata: his widow Christine Kaseba, his eldest son, Mulenga Sata – who pulled out of the race on Wednesday – and a nephew, Miles Sampa.
Kaseba filed her nomination papers at the very last minute. She had argued that, as Sata’s wife, she knew him better than anyone else and was the right candidate to succeed him.
Mulenga had initially said that, as mayor of the capital, Lusaka, and having gone through the “Sata school of politics”, he was ready for the presidency.
Sampa (44) is the youngest presidential aspirant and said he knew that he was “the best” candidate.
“I have proven myself in my constituency where I have empowered youths. I have won an award for my community service – I need to replicate this success nationally.”
Sampa said Zambia had just celebrated its 50th independence jubilee, so it needed a new generation of under-50s to see it through the next 50 years successfully.
Though the Sata clan is in competition for the top job, they are united under the aegis of Scott in a clique that wants to keep the Patriotic Front in the hands of a politically powerful inner circle.
They have formed a bulwark to counter the challenge for the presidency from the faction led by the increasingly popular Defence and Justice Minister Edgar Lungu, whom Sata had made acting president when he went to London for medical treatment.
Lungu, who until his short-lived ascension to power worked in relative obscurity, has engaged in a bitter succession dispute with Scott. And he is winning over many party members who see him as a David fighting an all-powerful Goliath.
After weeks of challenges and acrimonious exchanges, the Patriotic Front will hold its general conference to choose the presidential candidate on Saturday November 29.
Sata’s replacement stands a strong chance of winning the poll because of the advantage the party has of being able to leverage state resources and the general disorganisation of the opposition.
The former ruling party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, is also plagued by factional battles. In clear disregard of its own constitution, it replaced its leader, Nevers Mumba, with Banda, who lost to Sata in the 2011 elections.
The party is now embroiled in a legal challenge, distracting it from campaigning.
The most formidable opposition challenge to the Patriotic Front will come from the United Party for National Development, which after years in the political wilderness now has the open support of influential politicians, among them former first lady Maureen Mwanawasa and Vernon Mwaanga.
Party president Hakainde Hichilema is concentrating on promising to see the draft Constitution through to finality – something that is being well received by Zambians following the internecine power struggles.