A survey released ahead of the voting in Zambia’s presidential election
on 20 September shows incumbent Rupiah Banda just three points ahead
of his main challenger, Michael Sata.
President Banda, who took power after the death of his predecessor, Levy
Mwanawasa, in 2008, is banking on the positive effect high world copper prices have had on the country’s economic health over the last three years. This has led to a boom, though not it has to be said to any great improvements for the poverty-stricken majority. But there has been a surge in foreign investment in the mining sector and the expansion of output and employment at existing mines.
The opposition parties – notably Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) and the smaller United Party for National Development (UNDP) – have been demanding an election for some time. Banda and his Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) hesitated but at the end of the July announced the elections. Banda told the nation in a radio address at the end of the month that the Electoral Commission had everything
in place and voting could go ahead. But the centre for Policy Dialogue, an independent political research group, puts Banda 3% ahead of his main rival with 41% support.
Michael Sata is running again Banda for the second time. In 2008, following
the early demise of Mwanawasa, the fiery and outspoken PF leader hoped to at last gain power after 17 years of campaigning since the end of the one-party state. An early member of the MMD, having been Governor of Lusaka province under Kenneth Kaunda’s one party rule, Sata failed to become MMD presidential candidate in 2001 when incumbent president Fred Chiluba nominated Mwanawasa to succeed him.
He left the MMD and then set up the Patriotic Front to campaign against the governing party.
Sata is a populist with an abrasive but often inspiring rhetorical style. He tried in August to get the courts to rule that Banda could not stand for election. Sata’s Patriotic Front tried to use the Zambian parentage clause in the country’s constitution to say that Banda was in fact Malawian and so not eleigible to stand. In a an application to the courts, Sata claimed that Rupiah Banda’s father was born in Malawi, which would disqualify him on the grounds that the constitution lays down that both parents of a presidential candidate must be Zambian citizens by birth or descent.
Banda’s own party said the bid by Sata was indicative of the weakness of his policies and his challenge. The party national secretary Richard Kachingwe was quoted by the BBC as saying, “The court action was malicious”.
The parentage clause was introdued by President Fred Chiluba in 1996. It was seen at the time as an attempt by Chiluba (elected president in 1991 when he defeated long-time presdient Kenneth Kaunda) to prevent Kaunda, who was of Malawiandescent, standing in that year’s elections. Chiluba had swept to
power in 1991 on a wave of enthusiasm for democracy but his government was soon mired in accusations of corruption. The constitutional change was seen as a way of preventing the still-popular Kaunda from mounting a successful challenge.
Many in Zambia see Sata’s bid as a gamble following the failure of his attempt to build a coalition with the UPND – the two parties had teamed up earlier this year but had split when Sata insisted he had (for the third time in a row) to be the presidential candidate.
Sata has a harder task than ever this year. The healthy state of the mining sector and copper prices mean that Banda can boast of improving the economy and bringing in foreign investment. Sata has always been highly critical, not without cause, of the role of the ever more economically powerful Chinese in Zambia’s economy. China has been an economic partner since Kaunda’s time but in recent years massive
investments have brought China’s entrepreneurs huge business power but also controversy.
In April this year two Chinese mine bosses had charges of attempted murder against dropped by the government. They had been charged b y the police with shooting into a crowd of demonstrating mineworkers.
Chinese investment in Zambia, particularly in the previously troubled mining sector, now amount to over $400m. But Zamb ian workers and their strong unions (£250m) in the copper-rich cou have accused Chinese businessman and bosses of abuses of power and say they pay low wages, keeping workers in poverty.
The two Chinese mine bosses, had fired on their employees at a
mine in Sinazongwe in southern Zambia to break up a protest, according to the police. Eleven workers were injured during the protests.
Chinese economic influence and their reputation as exploitative employers is a card Sata can play, but it is risky. If he were elected, which seems unlikely on past performance and current surveys, he would then have to deal with those he has been vehemently critcizing in order maintain the smooth working of the all important mining sector.
So, with his coalition in tatters and the economy booming, a gambling man
would most likely put his stake on Banda this time. he is 41% to 38% up in the polls – exactly the winning margin he had in 2008 – a good omen for him but disappointing again for Sata.