Levy predicts victory in Zambia polls

Speaking on Wednesday evening at a well attended campaign rally in Kabwe, a town about 120 kilometers north of the capital Lusaka, Mwanawasa said because of the achievements his Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) government made in turning the economy around he was sure of beating opposition political parties that are contesting the polls.

He however cautioned his campaign team, headed by party national chairman Vernon Mwaanga, not to be complacent because of the advantage MMD has over its rivals.

He also urged the electorate not to “waste” their vote on the opposition because that would derail the progress MMD was making in good governance and economic management.

“Although we are winning the elections, we will work hard until September 28. Do not waste your votes on the good-for-nothing people. I have come here (Kabwe) to ask for support of presidential, parliamentary and local government candidates,” said Mwanawasa who is running for the last and second term of office since he took over from Frederick Chiluba in 2001.

This was his third campaign rally. The first was in the Eastern Province of the Zambia a fortnight ago. It was followed by another one in the Copperbelt Province a week ago.

Indications in Central Province where Kabwe is located are that MMD and Mwanawasa could have a landslide victory while in the capital Lusaka the opposition also has a heavy presence and commands popularity.

Political analysts say parties that MMD has to watch out for include United Democratic Alliance that comprises three major individual political parties United Party for National Development (UPND), Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) and the first and former ruling party United National Independence Party (UNIP).

The alliance is sponsoring parliamentary and local government candidates from individual member parties.

The other political party that has been slowly gaining ground in Lusaka, Copperbelt and the Northern Province of the country is Patriotic Front (PF) headed by Michael Sata a former cabinet minister in the Chiluba government and sworn political rival of President Mwanawasa.

Members of the public that have fallen out with the ruling MMD because of what they term bad policies are embroiled in debates on whether to support PF or the alliance.

“What I can see is that though Mwanawasa may sail through, the next parliament will be well balanced because these guys will share the seats among the three, MMD, PF and UDA no one is popular than the other. On the other hand three command varying followings in different regions,” said Victor Kali a political scholar and analyst.

Although being the incumbent Mwanawasa has an upper hand over his rivals, during campaign rallies main opposition leaders have been bragging they will scoop the presidency because of what they say are better plans they have for Zambia.

UDA presidential candidate Hakainde Hichilema who has also been going round the country campaigning has made pledges of job creation. He has also promised to woo back people that are working in the Diaspora.

At 44 Hichilema is the youngest presidential candidate who during the nomination emerged the richest followed by president Mwanawasa.

The other candidate with a large following is PF leader Michael Sata, who in his late sixties and is the oldest of all the five candidates. He has been promising to reducing income taxes and creating equal opportunities for the under privileged.

In this year’s elections both the police and the Electoral Commission of Zambia have pledged to ensure that the polls are held in a peaceful environment.

According to observers the media has also been giving fair coverage.

Southern African Editors’ Forum (SAEF) Zambian chapter chairperson Pelekelo Liswaniso has expressed happiness with the manner the media has been covering the political events.

“It never happened like this in the past as SAEF we have been monitoring the way the media, especially the public media, has been covering the events. They are giving enough space and airtime to both the opposition and the MMD. It’s exciting and I am happy The Southern Times has been doing its part at the regional level,” said Liswaniso who is also an editor of Zambia Daily Mail.

Mwanawasa is widely tipped to win the poll.

Weeks of mounting speculation over the date of the scheduled General Election ended on the evening of July 26, when in a television and radio address, President Levy Mwanawasa dissolved Parliament and named September 28 as polling day.

This will be the fourth General Election since 1991 when the country reverted to the multi-party system of government after 17 years of being a one party state.

Since then the country has been ruled by the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), the political party that from February 1990 spearheaded the campaign for a return to political pluralism.

It was a message that found ready resonance with the public and the MMD won by a landslide what were the first multi-party elections in 23 years, held in October 1991.

It retained power with comfortable parliamentary majorities in subsequent elections held in 1996 and 2001.

Even in the forthcoming elections, the contest is between the MMD and a very fragmented opposition. The ruling party’s presidential candidate is the incumbent, Levy Mwanawasa who is seeking a second and last term, as the constitution imposes a two-term limit.

Observers say barring the unforeseen, Mwanawasa and the ruling party should win easily.

The MMD is comparatively better organized, cohesive and inspires more confidence than the opposition. As the elections approach, the ruling party is in a strong, almost unassailable position and exudes confidence.

Since coming to power in January 2002, Mwanawasa has launched an anti-corruption drive that has seen his predecessor and some senior officials of the previous administration arraigned for corruption and abuse of office. This anti-graft campaign has won the President and his administration some admiration and support.

Under his stewardship too, most of the country’s US$$7.1 billion external debt has been written -off.

In April 2005, Zambia attained the completion point of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), a debt -relief scheme of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

In consequence, Western creditor nations to whom the bulk of the money was owed, wrote off large chunks of Zambia’s external debt. There was further relief from the G-8 Summit held at Gleneagles, Scotland in July last year where it was proposed to write-off 100 per cent of debts owed by 18 mainly African countries to the IMF, the World Bank and the African Development Bank (ADB).

Largely because of her HIPC performance, Zambia was among the African countries that met the criteria for that debt forgiveness.

These debt-write offs have led to a sizeable reduction in the country’s external debt.

From the massive US$7.1 billion that she owed as at the end of 2004, the debt reduced to

US$4 billion in 2005. When the G8 commitments are effected, it is expected that the debt will stand at around US$700 million.

Debt service payments have reduced significantly, increasing the amounts available for investment in the social sectors and other public services. The reduction in debt service payments has relieved pressure on the treasury, generally.

The local currency has for the first time in years, appreciated against the major currencies leading to a reduction in the price of some goods on the retail market.

Inflation is again, for the first time, being talked of in single digit figures.

In western eyes at least, Zambia is today something of an African example in good economic housekeeping.

There was no visitation of the recurrent Southern African drought during the last agricultural season. The harvest of the staple food, maize was 1.4 million tonnes -100000 tonnes more than the national requirement. Food security is therefore assured.

Industry is stirring back to life, characterized by a dramatic revival of the mining industry following the completion of privatization in 2000. Copper mining, the country’s mainstay and main foreign exchange earner has once more picked up, spurred on by record prices on the international market.

There is a re-kindled interest in mining and the sector is attracting large foreign investments. At least two large-scale mines including one that will be among the largest on the continent are due to open and more are planned.

The economy generally is showing some signs of beginning to turn the corner.

Even though most of these developments can be properly ascribed to the chain of economic reforms since 1991, they are for Mwanawasa and the ruling party a record of “accomplishments” on which to base a strong enough campaign to overshadow and even silence the opposition.

By contrast, the opposition has been on a downward spiral.

The only blow it has so far dealt the ruling party has been the adoption as its candidates some members that the ruling party did not adopt as candidates. They promptly defected to the opposition and some have a personal support base, strong enough to cause an upset.

But internal blood-letting, failure to build consensus and a latent inability to abide by internal election results has led to reduced public confidence in the opposition, generally.

Succession to the leadership of the largest opposition party, the United Party for National Development (UPND) following the death of its leader Anderson Mazoka, has for instance led to tension, dissension and a breakaway party.

The party is today badly shaken and needed more time to heal the self-inflicted wounds from the succession battle. Hence, despite a youthful and quite solid new leader who has caught the imagination of many, the UPND has split and is without the momentum to recreate its stirring performance of 2001.

Then, Mazoka lost only narrowly and at the last minute in the presidential race and his party won 49 of the 150 parliamentary seats, becoming the country’s largest opposition party ever.

Initially, the opposition had responded to the approaching elections by forming two electoral alliances – the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) comprising the three largest parties and the National Democratic Focus (NDF) that took in many of the smaller ones. They have both more or less unraveled largely due to leadership disputes.

The death of Mazoka in May put the UDA off stride. Only recently has it managed and only after some initial wrangling to name his successor, Hakainde Hichilema as its presidential candidate.

August 2006
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