The presidential election in Zambia on January 20 will be the beginning of at least 12 presidential and legislative polls in Africa this year. The outcome of the Zambian poll, observers believe, will serve as a pointer to how the elections will play out in Nigeria next month, in Burundi, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Lesotho, Sudan, Tanzania and Togo.wpid-20110419nigeriaelectionsm1.jpg
The election in Zambia arose following the death of President Michael Sata last October and since then his Patriotic Front (PF) has been battling to put up a unified front in the face of strong opposition from the United Party for National Development (UPND).
After Mr. Sata’s death, the PF descended into internecine fighting as members jockeyed for the presidential candidacy.
Edgar Lungu, who quickly staked a claim for the position, was removed from his position as PF Secretary-General by acting President Guy Scott.
Currently the Justice and Defence Minister, Lungu eventually emerged as the party’s presidential candidate, but only after the matter was decided in court.
For now, members of the PF have rallied round Lungu, as the party tries to fend off Hakainde Hichilema, the presidential candidate of the UPND, whose star has been rising.
The PF campaign has been made even more difficult by President’s Scott decision not to allow Mr. Lungu to use state funds for his campaign.
In this regard, Mr. Lungu’s recent visits to Angola, Congo Republic, Nigeria, Rwanda and Zimbabwe were viewed by observers as attempts to raise funds and to get the backing of leaders of these countries if there were any electoral dispute.
“The closeness of the presidential campaign has really rattled the PF,” a political analyst said in Lusaka. “This is the reason why we are witnessing increasing PF violence against the UPND.”
The most serious incident of political violence so far was an attack on Mr. Hichilema’s campaign team by PF supporters as the team disembarked from a helicopter that had flown them to northern Zambia.
The incident was roundly condemned and even the PF had to apologise.
Demographics could play a major part in the outcome of the election. While Mr. Hichilema’s support base is among 18 to24 year-olds, Mr. Lungu has been garnering support from voters aged between 24 and 34 and over 65, who are seen as solid voters.
Added to this are the one million or so voters who propelled Mr. Sata to power in 2011 and who are said to be solidly behind Mr. Lungu.
For many observers, the race is wide open because Zambians are not looking at voting along political lines but in the best interest of Zambia.
They point out that overall, what has been remarkable about this campaign has been the extent of cross-party endorsements. Until now support was strictly based on party loyalties.
The way Zambians see this election is more of a stop-gap exercise to ensure that a leader is elected who will ably manage the transition to 2016.
Mr. Sata’s term would have ended then, and an election held for a leader to serve for five years.
Whoever wins the election on January 20 will be expected to ensure stability in the country, keep members of his party happy and prepare the party for the crucial 2016 presidential elections.
feature by Desmond Davies