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Zambia: opposition in disarray; There is chaos in opposition ranks as their preferred frontrunner has died months before the next elections. Austin Mbewe reports from Lusaka.

The death of Zambia's main opposition leader, Anderson Mazoka, in May has left the newly formed opposition alliance in disarray. Not only did the bombshell drop when the alliance was gearing up for this year's elections, but also his succession threatens to rip apart the party Mazoka formed eight years ago.

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In March, three parties--the United Party for National Development (UPND) hitherto led by Mazoka; the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) of former finance minister, Edith Nawakwi; and the former ruling party, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) headed by Tilyenji Kaunda, the former president's son--came together to form the United Democratic Alliance (UDA). The three had agreed on Mazoka as their presidential candidate, and, assuming they won, Nawakwi would be vice president while Kaunda was expected to get the defence and finance portfolios until the constitution was changed to accommodate two vice presidents.

But Mazoka's death from kidney complications in May came as a huge setback. The wrangles in the UPND over Mazoka's succession are not helping matters. Some factions from the Tonga ethnic group from the south of the country where Mazoka hailed from, are insisting that his successor should only be a Tonga. They argue that the party in the past adopted a tradition that if a member of its supreme decision-making body resigned or died, someone from his or her ethnic group would fill the vacancy. They are wondering why goalposts should now shift.

Interestingly, some southerners are asking Mazoka's widow, Mutinta, to succeed her husband. The only touch of politics she has was accompanying her husband to campaign rallies. So heated is Mazoka's succession debate that a day after his death some party cadres in the south--the party's stronghold--threatened to burn their newly acquired voters' cards, claiming that an election without Mazoka was not worth it as they saw no credible replacement for the late opposition figure. The more bizarre is their warning that if the widow was not chosen, they would, on polling day, cast their ballot on Mazoka's grave.

Officially, the party has distanced itself from the succession battle, saying those discussing it are only expressing personal opinions as the party has not even tabled the matter. At the time of going to press, the party was yet to meet to chart the way forward.

The succession wrangles in the UPND--the largest opposition party in the country--have naturally had a spill-over effect on the alliance. Depending on how the succession is handled, the alliance may either march forward or collapse. It also remains to be seen whether the chosen successor will automatically replace Mazoka as the alliance's flag-bearer. If the candidacy moves from the UPND to Edith Nawakwi, the most likely option within the alliance, political analysts doubt if the UPND will still be as loyal to the alliance. However, the shrewd, eloquent and experienced Nawakwi could, if adequately backed, give the ruling party a run for its money.

It is clear that Mazoka was a towering figure in Zambian politics and his absence will extensively alter the country's political scene. He managed to form a strong party at a time there was virtually no opposition in the country. In the 2001 polls, his party captured a third of the legislative seats, and he missed the presidency by a whisker although he still believed unto death that he won it but it was stolen from him.

A Harvard-trained mechanical engineer and economist, Mazoka, 63, weaved his corporate career from General Electric in the US, to the Zambia Railways, and finally Anglo American Corporation where he became the CEO for Central Africa, sitting on 42 boards and chairing 18 of them, before retiring in 1998 to go into politics.

"It will be difficult to find a suitable replacement matching Mazoka's stature in the remaining time to the elections," observed Dr. Neo Simutanyi, a political science scholar at the University of Zambia. "There is no doubt that Zambian politics will not be the same again without the name of Mazoka." The don predicted a "re-alignment of political forces" as people who would have supported UPND on account of Mazoka were likely to shift their allegiances. "The whole political arithmetic has changed and new permutations are likely to emerge," he said.
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Title Annotation:Around Africa
Author:Mbewe, Austin
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6ZAMB
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Words:708
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