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Mwanawasa rules a house divided. (Cover Story: Zambia).

Zambia's new President, Levy Mwanawasa scraped into office by the skin of his teeth and amid allegations of vote-rigging by the opposition. He now presides over a very finely balanced parliament. The question is will the new leader, whose credentials for honesty are impeccable, now be able to create the 'clean government' he has promised or will the realities of politics force him off course. Tom Nevin with some early observations.

As the dust settles after Zambia's rowdiest election in its nearly 40 years as an independent democracy, newly-sworn in President Levy Mwanawasa has picked up the reins to a rumbustious and potentially uncooperative steed. Although the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) is back in power, the division of parliament is more precarious than the ruling parry would like, and the new President and his lieutenants can look forward to many a tussle in the house, as well as a slew of courtroom battles on vote-rigging charges.

If some opposition MPs have their way, MMD rule could be short-lived. The 53year-old Mwanawasa now faces the rigours of an unpopular Presidency - more than 70% of Zambia's voters don't want him as President.

Mwanawasa edged in by a scant 1% over his nearest rival, Anderson Mazoka, leader of the United Parry for National Development (UPND). It was even closer in the simultaneously held parliamentary elections where a hung parliament is a distinct possibility.

Mwanawasa s counter to threatened parliamentary paralysis was to offer government positions to the leaders of smaller opposition parties, with varying degrees of success.

A messy government?

It may nor be as simple as that in the longer term. Opposition parties have promised to take some election results to court, although proving fraudulent polling will be a costly legal battle with scant hope of victory. At the same time, governing could become a messy business if the balance-of-power seats are in limbo while they wait for the outcome of the legal battles.

The question still remains whether or nor the elections were rigged as the losers maintain. The MMD insists they were free and fair, the UPND insists they were not; observers from the European Union reported they were 'flawed', the US reserved judgement awaiting more evidence. An early challenge by the UPND was overturned in the High Court, but may have more success in a Supreme Court hearing.

One political leader anticipating another parliamentary election soon is Zambia Republican Party (ZRP) President Ben Mwila because "a minority government cannot defeat a motion in Parliament".

Mwila also warned that "there will be many petitions and by-elections" that could come about because of election irregularity. "In Musanzula constituency," he noted, "there were more people who voted than there were registered voters in that electoral district. There are many such cases."

The official statistics show that only 29% of the voter turnout cast their ballots for Mwanawasa, the rest were in favour of opposition candidates of whom Mazoka came closest with 28%. The rest split their loyalties between nine aspirant Presidential contenders, virtually guaranteeing that Mwanawasa would walk off with the big prize.

A 29% Presidential victory is no landslide and a hung parliament hardly a popular vote of confidence. It shows that the 71% of Zambian voters, who braved an exceptionally wet summer rainy season to be heard, think it's time for a change of administration.

If the opposition had got its act together and spoken with a coherent and united voice, no amount of rigging would have come in the way of its victory. The withdrawal of just two or three of the small party candidates, who had zero chance of winning, would probably have tipped the scales.

The devil you know

But that was not to be, and Zambia now settles down to six years of a Mwanawasa Presidency and MDC/minor party coalition government. In the government's eyes this is not be a bad thing. As Mwanawasa was quick to point out at the hustings last year, "we are the devil you know". His campaign slogan put the same sentiment in more conservative language with the promise of 'continuity with change'. What changes the new President has in mind will become known as the year u folds, but his new cabinet is consistent with is voting pledge.

The important portfolio of Finance remains in the hands of Emmanuel Kasonde. He first held the post in 1991 when Mwanawasa was Vice-President under Frederick Chiluba. Another incumbent who will stay at his desk is Vernon Mwaanga, Chiluba's Information Minister.

That's the continuity, the change could be more traumatic. On the campaign trail, Mwanawasa insisted that "Zambia is not for sale". This sentiment may presage a slowdown in Zambia's energetic privatisation campaign, so far among Africa's most successful (see Privatisation Succeed , African Business, January 2002).

The 10-year old programme was set in motion by the then fledgling MMD government of Frederick Chiluba at the urging of the International Monetary Fund wanting to see rapid economic liberalisation in exchange for increased aid and development packages.

While Zambia's privatisation has not been one easy ride - some notable failures providing the potholes - it has been characterised by the government's determination to stick it out and make it succeed. Mwanawasa may also be hinting that he's unhappy with the way Zambia's open trade policies are being taken advantage of and wants to see some strategic protectionist tightening.

Whether or not other economic measures would include a return to exchange controls to better direct and slow the outflow of hard currencies remains to be seen. Zambia has often been praised by both the IMF and the World Bank, along with other funding institutions, for its commitment to economic liberalisation.

But, after 10 years of belt tightening, Zambians have little to show for sacrifices brought about by steadily-increasing price hikes and unemployment. Mwanawasa may be considering other ways to stimulate the economy.

Change of economic pace

At his first meeting with the IMF after taking office, Mwanawasa pledged to maintain the sound relationship with both the IMF and the World Bank in order to help develop the nation but, he hinted, with some qualification. He told the Fund delegation, led by its deputy managing director Shigemistu Sugisaki, that the privatisation programme will be carried out "at the pace that benefits Zambians".

Zambia has learnt a number of lessons over the last 10 years, says Mwanawasa, and "we are going to use these lessons as we chart the way forward for the nation," he told the IMF delegation. "Under the liberalised economic policy, Zambia experienced failures in the market especially in the agriculture sector including the inadequate supply of agricultural input to the small scale farmers. A lot of attention will be paid to revamping the agriculture sector."

Mwanawasa said hunger had increased due to the new economic.

challenges, as had the quality of social services such as education and health. "This cannot be allowed to continue," he cautioned.

While the switch to a liberal economic system had recorded some success under the MMD, the going had not been easy. "We have witnessed increases in poverty resulting in wide spread hunger in the last 10 years of economic liberalisation," he said, pointing to casualties through company closures and job losses.

In addition Zambia still has serious poverty, food insecurity, the HIV/AIDS scourge and the country's massive debt burden. He called on the IMF and the World Bank to help write off Zambia's debt whose repayment obligations had resulted in most social sectors being denied adequate funding.

Crossroads for the opposition.

Choices now confront the parliamentary opposition. Still resentful at having the government denied them by what they claim was blatant election fraud by the MMD, they must now decide on whether to be confrontational and obstructive, or play a more fundamental parliamentary opposition role that will force checks and balances in the house. Michelo Hansungule, Professor of law at University of Pretoria's Centre for Human Rights, argues for the latter.

"There is no need for despondency," he told an Integrity Foundation of Zambia meeting in Lusaka. He urged the opposition parties not to boycott Parliament but to use their majority to ensure public official accountability. He warned opposition members against being bought off by the MMD saying it is easy for politicians to lose their sense of decency for the sake of money.

"There are always problems whenever poverty meets money," he said. Professor Hansungule pointed out that an opposition majority in Parliament could put a stop "to sweeping of things under the carpet".

Mwanawasa, although not the Presidential choice of the majority of Zambia's voters, has a record that suggests he will be strong on transparency and will crack down on graft and corruption in government.

He was recalled from the political wilderness in August last year to spearhead the MMD's re-election bid after a party revolt forced former President, Frederick Chiluba to step down.

He became Chiluba's Vice-President after the 1991 elections ousted Kenneth Kaunda, but three years later he publicly attacked Chiluba's record on raft and human rights and of doing nothing to stop the country from being plundered by government officials. Chiluba promptly declared him incompetent and fired him. Mwanawasa decided he'd had enough of politics and withdrew from public life to his law practice in Lusaka and Ndola.

At his swearing in as President, Mwanawasa declared: "I left (in 1994) because of corruption in government, because I felt some people were being shielded and allowed to get away with plundering state resources. I return as President and pledge that no-one shall be shielded whether Ministers or senior officials. I am going to run a clean government."


Although he fought tooth and nail to stay in the driving seat by trying to rewrite the constitution and extend his Presidential term, outgoing President Frederick Chiluba finally acceded to the popular wish late last year (manifested in noisy demonstrations) and stepped down, naming Levy Mwanawasa as MMD party Presidential candidate. When the time came, he quietly vacated State House in Lusaka and said farewell to the trappings of Zambia's highest office.

From here on he will live comfortably in a government-owned house and enjoy stare security, staff, vehicles and other perks. He joins veteran politician and architect of modern Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, on the Presidential sidelines, but whether Chiluba will command the statesmanlike popularity accorded internationally to Kaunda in his post-Presidential years, only time will tell.

While KK, as he is still fondly known, involves himself in social causes world-wide (such as his Aids fund), Chiluba is expected to pursue a post-Presidential business career. He put fears to rest that he would try to run the Presidency from the wings by insisting that he is stepping down as MMD parry leader. "I will relinquish my parry presidency," he said at Mwanawasa's inauguration. "You will be your own man. This office is all yours. No-one will control you. We can only support you.

President Levy Mwanawasa moved into State house in mid-January with his wife Maureen, also a lawyer, and their six children.


If the Zambian elections proved anything, it was to show that once again, the opposition handed victory over on a plate. In Zambia, as in many other African countries, opposition parties are as disunited and divided as ever. It's true that Mwanawasa squeaked in by the proverbial skin of his teeth, and runner-up Anderson Mazoka, along with other runners, will argue that the polling was rigged. But none of that can gainsay the fact that the MMD did not win the elections, they were lost by squabbling, self-seeking and divided opposition parties and their leaders.

While Mazoka, until recently chief of mining giant Anglo American in Zambia, would no doubt have pulled the sometimes loose national economics together, he has a lot to learn in the cut and thrust of politics and in the intricacies and diplomacy of managing national affairs. This is not to say that he won't learn as leader of the opposition over the next half-dozen years, and present a more formidable challenge at the next election.

Christon Tembo was another short-odds runner in the Presidential stakes. The former army chief of staff was a confidante of Frederick Chiluba until a fall-out last year over Chiluba's bid for another term saw him leave the government and Vice-Presidency. The veteran soldier made good early running but ended up a rather distant third behind Mazoka. Conventional wisdom has it that although he is a seasoned politician and a natural leader, he still has a lot to learn about finance and economics, and this fact worried a big percentage of voters.

Many Zambians had hoped, not unreasonably, for a Mazoka-Tembo team, united in the fight against Mwanawasa. It seems, however, that neither wanted to give up the opportunity of becoming President and could not decide on the choice of candidate.
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Author:Nevin, Tom
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Feb 1, 2002
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