President Sata’s physical condition is the factor on which all else hangs, especially the sharpening divisions in his party, according to the latest edition of Africa Confidential.
Age and ill health will restrict President Michael Chilufya Sata’s public appearances this year, fuelling 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 out manoeuvre Kabimba and ensure that the presidency remains in Bemba hands (AC Vol 54 No22).
Sata appears determined to play the two rivals off against each other for as long as possible, even though it is destabilizing the PF. If Sata backed Kabimba, the PF would lose popularity. Yet were 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.