Magazine article New African

Fighting for Power: Zambia's General Election Is Expected between September and October. but Campaigns Are Already under Way Even as the Credibility of the Electoral Commission Is at Stake. Austin Mbewe Reports from Lusaka

Magazine article New African

Fighting for Power: Zambia's General Election Is Expected between September and October. but Campaigns Are Already under Way Even as the Credibility of the Electoral Commission Is at Stake. Austin Mbewe Reports from Lusaka

Article excerpt

THIS WILL NO DOUBT BE THE MOST tightly contested election since 1991 when the country reverted to multiparty politics after 17 years of one-party rule. The ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) will have been in power for 20 years this year and is determined to stay on. The election will thus be a plebiscite on the patty's two decades in power. Conversely, the opposition is strongly convinced that this year is their year and it is time for change. The stakes could not be any higher--and both sides know it.

But the body organising the elections has already been embroiled in controversy. In January, the chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), Judge Florence Mumba, resigned. It was a long-running saga. In lace 2010, Mumba suspended the ECZ CEO, Dan Kalale, on unspecified grounds, and finally sacked him in January. But Kalale fought back, claiming that he had been fired for opposing the award of an auditing tender worth $200,000, which Mumba had allegedly sanctioned without following tender procedures. Workers at the Commission sided with Kalale and staged a boycott demanding his reinstatement and Mumba's removal. Ordinarily, the government is harsh with striking workers but in this case, curiously, it gave a sympathetic eat to the workers. The state-owned media followed suit, which lent weight to the view that the government was fanning the confusion at the ECZ in a bid to get rid of the chairperson, a charge the government denied. Mumba, a former Supreme Court judge and vice president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, initially stood her ground, but she finally left quietly, perhaps sensing a conspiracy against her. President Rupiah Banda said he had "reluctantly accepted" her resignation. Then the striking workers returned to work, but their demand of Kalale's reinstatement was not met.

Although the ECZ has always had credibility problems, this is not helped by the fact that all this happened in an election year. Under the constitution, the president nominates the chairperson of the ECZ for ratification by parliament. Thus the next chairperson will be tightly scrutinised and will, as always, be in the unenviable position of balancing the many delicate interests arising from the enormity of the task at hand as the Commission tries to prove that it can run a credible election.

MMD

The ruling party will field the incumbent Rupiah Banda. The party holds its national convention in the first week of April to elect party leaders, but Banda's supporters have made it clear they will not entertain challengers to the throne and have declared him "the sole presidential candidate". Thus, the convention will involve a crowning ceremony, not an election.

Infrastructure development is the key theme the party is promoting. State television is replete with documentaries about schools, hospitals and roads that are un-arguably being built at an increasing pace. The president is taking every opportunity to commission new works or inaugurate completed projects.

In February, he launched a five-year Sixth National Development Plan that will require over $26bn to implement. The overall target under "Vision 2030" is to turn the country into a middle-income country. Targets are now common parlance among government departments. The Ministry of Education, for instance, has targeted building 100 new high schools by 2015, and recruiting 200,000 additional teachers. According to the government, "this is the biggest infrastructural development that Zambia has ever seen".

On the economic front, foreign reserves at the central bank at the end of last year stood at $2bn, inflation has hovered below 10%--although a recent increase in fuel prices will certainly push it higher--while economic growth for 2010 was at 6.6%.

In response to criticism of Banda's numerous foreign trips, the government boasts that his travels are yielding fruit as the business deals struck abroad have now translated into actual investment in various sectors of the economy. …

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