Three months after the October 2014 death of Zambian President Michael Sata, January 2015 saw Edgar Lungu, of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), was sworn in as his successor after a tightly contested presidential by-election. Lungu will serve out the remainder of Sata’s term until 2016, when the next general elections are due, but will be hard pressed to retain the presidency beyond this period.
The competitive presidential elections saw the United Party for National Development (UPND – the third placed opposition party after the 2011 elections) come in a very close second with 46.7% of the vote, compared to the PF’s 48.3%.(Lungu’s small margin of victory has fuelled speculation that UPND candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, could easily claim victory in 2016.) Hichilema maintains that the by-election vote was rigged, although the country’s electoral commission claims elections were transparent, free and fair.
The Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) suffered a crisis of credibility among the electorate, owing largely to serious internal divisions on the party’s choice of presidential candidate: former President Rupiah Banda or MMD President Nevers Mumba. The very public discord culminated in MMD members publically campaigning for either a PF or UPND presidency with Banda ultimately controversially endorsing Lungu’s bid. The result was a massive loss of support with the MMD capturing only a dismal 0.87% of the vote.
A significant rider is the low voter turnout of only 32.36% suggesting electoral fatigue among a population tiring of party political squabbles.
The elections have emphasised pervasive fault lines in the Zambian political landscape as seen in the repeated tendency of succession issues to induce and entrench party political fragmentation. The PF has been hard hit on this front and, while Lungu supporters will now likely reap the rewards of their loyalty, those who opposed his nomination face the inevitable purge. This has already seen Guy Scott fired as Vice President and demoted to an ordinary Member of Parliament. Scott emerged as a Lungu adversary when he challenged the latter’s right to be acting vice president after Sata’s death. Scott was replaced by a Lungu ally, National PF Chair Inonge Wina, and now Zambia’s first female vice president.
Short-term priorities for Lungu should include the enduring matter of a new constitution but he has said this is not a ‘priority’ for him amid high poverty levels, poor communication and road infrastructure, and low educational standards. He has refused to commit in writing to the Grand Coalition for a People Driven Constitution by the end of 2016 and has only vaguely promised to work towards the new constitution “…in line with the road map that we released a few weeks ago”.
From an investment perspective, Lungu’s victory implies the continuation of Sata’s populist policies but it is worth noting that his mandate is fragile and grounded in severe macroeconomic challenges. Further concerns include allegations of a drinking problem and chronic health issues such as diabetes.
Lungu will need to ensure some measure of political and economic consistency in the period leading to 2016 to sustain even current levels of support while continued rumblings of electoral irregularities from the UNPD’s Hichilema suggest that a fierce battle may be looming. There are no imminent threats to Zambia’s five decade history of relative political stability but there are certainly indicators of political challenges to PF’s tenure in the longer term.