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African Confidential analyse President Sata’s leadership

Filed under: Latest News,Politics |
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SataAge and ill health will restrict President Michael Chilufya Sata’s public appearances this year, fueling speculation that he will not be fit enough to contest the 2016 general elections.

Tension within the governing Patriotic Front will escalate as rival leaders and factions jockey for position to replace him as its presidential candidate. Unless President Sata starts to manage the succession process more effectively, this tension could lead to the breakdown of the PF. That may be the opposition’s only hope of establishing a substantial presence.

Sata’s former lawyer and close confidant Wynter Kabimba will continue to use his influence to try to take control of the party from within. The wealthy ex- Defence Minister, Geoffrey Mwamba, will use his higher national profile and popularity to try to outmanoeuvre Kabimba and ensure that the presidency remains in Bemba hands (AC Vol 54 No 22).

Sata appears determined to play the two rivals off against each other for as long as possible, even though it is destabilising the PF. If Sata backed Kabimba, the PF would lose popularity. Yet when he unable to continue as President, Sata’s refusal to name a successor would lead to a divisive power struggle among his lieutenants. Mwamba’s resignation from cabinet may already have set the PF on such a course.

The more that senior PF leaders’ attention is distracted by the questions of succession and retaining power, the worse the prospects of Zambia successfully completing the much needed constitutional review. The recent publication of the latest constitutional draft was marred by accusations that the government was attempting to keep it from the public. Critics fear that the party has turned its back on the progressive reforms it championed in opposition.

The most controversial debate will concern the ‘50% + 1’ clause. This requires successful presidential candidates to win an absolute majority of votes cast. That could mean a two-round election. This has long been a core demand of democracy activists but Sata, who won the 2011 poll with 44% of the vote, is said to worry that such a clause could end the PF’s chances of holding on to the presidency.

If such key clauses are removed or the review process is postponed, a confrontation with civil society is likely. Although public sector workers are pleased with the higher wages they have obtained under the PF, trade unions are concerned at what they consider an authoritarian bent within the PF especially after 250 striking nurses were sacked in November as ‘an example’.

The politically influential churches also remain suspicious of Sata. If the PF mishandles reform, the Oasis Forum, an informal coalition of religious and other civil society groups, could start to campaign against him, as it successfully did when the late President Frederick Chiluba tried to get a third term in 2001 (AC Vol 44 No 12). Relations with donors are equally fragile and could deteriorate further if Sata is judged to be sabotaging the constitutional review process; a ‘donor strike’ is a real possibility.

Despite the mounting political uncertainty, the economy will continue to grow at around 7%. The major drivers will be high copper prices and high government expenditure on higher public sector wages and infrastructure projects. It will, however, come at a cost. The combination of the rising price of debt-servicing and a bigger wage bill mean that the budget deficit is likely to continue to rise. If the kwacha continues to slide against the US dollar, this situation will become worse.

However bad the pressure, the PF is unlikely to nationalise key businesses, whatever the radical rhetoric of some of its leaders. Much will depend on the successful privatisation of remaining state assets, such as the Zambian Consolidated Copper Mines Investment Holdings, which will both bring in valuable revenue and demonstrate the government’s commitment to a free-market economy.

Source: African Confidential.

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