ZAMBIA'S PRESIDENT, RUPIAH Banda, marked one year in power in November. Opinion about his performance varies depending on who is passing the judgment. To his critics, the first year in power "has been a disaster", but his supporters strongly argue that "the president has provided able leadership".
Banda himself says his first year in office has been "tough". Looking back, he says presiding over the nation following the death of his predecessor, Levy Mwanawasa, being subjected to an election within the party, and finally, squaring it off with the opposition in last year's snap presidential poll, was not easy.
But that is not all. The president has had to contend with an opposition determined to wrestle power from his party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), which will have been in power for 20 years at the next election in 2011.
Two of the country's main opposition parties--the Patriotic Front (PF) of the veteran Michael Sata, and the United Party for National Development (UPND) of the fabulously wealthy businessman Hakainde Hichilema--have formed a pact which has significantly upset the political order.
Until the pact, the two leaders were worlds apart and the most unlikely of political bedfellows. With their newfound cooperation, the two have turned up the heat on Banda and his government, and their combined attacks, aided by generous coverage in the private media, are having quite an effect on the ruling party.
Inside Banda's own party, the MMD, there is a split over the holding of the party congress. Some members have called for the congress scheduled for next year to be postponed. This would give Banda a free ride as the party's candidate in the 2011 general election.
Those calling for the postponement of the congress have attempted to outsmart their opponents by asking all provinces to endorse Banda as the candidate. The provinces have responded but that endorsement does not have everyone's respect.
The plan to forego the congress is strongly opposed by other members who insist that the party must subject all MMD leaders, including Banda (who is the acting president of the party besides being national president), to a vote.
Leading this group are the former defence minister George Mpombo and the former finance minister Ng'andu Magande, who has made public his presidential ambitions. Of the two, Mpombo is the tough-talking one and he has become a regular headline-maker in the private press since his resignation in July. He has accused President Banda of mismanaging the party, disrespecting its constitution, and has prophesied electoral doom for the MMD if they put Banda's name on the ballot in 2011. Mpombo and Magande have so fallen out of the party's favour that Banda's supporters have called for their expulsion from the MMD. But, like the proverbial testing of the depth of the river with both feet, the party has resisted testing its popularity by expelling the two men and subjecting their parliamentary seats to the vote.
Thus, for now, the party must contend with the criticism from its members, no matter how unpleasant. By all accounts, the debate over the holding of the congress will continue, as the political temperature in the country picks up.
Banda's governance credentials have been called into question following the controversial acquittal in August of former president Frederick Chiluba who was charged with stealing $500,000 from the public purse. …