Zambia’s main opposition presidential candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, pledged to woo investors to boost the economy and reverse what he described as the ruling party’s populist approach should he win the Jan. 20 election.
The party will end the “negative, unattractive business environment” that he said has developed under the ruling Patriotic Front, Hichilema, 52, told reporters in Lusaka, the capital. “We will begin to redirect the economy. Make it attractive, predictable, credible, consistent.”
Hichilema said he will reverse a mining-tax system that took effect this month and replaced taxes on profit with higher royalties.
Hichilema, who’s known as HH and leads Zambia’s United Party for National Development, has emerged as the opposition leader with the greatest chance of defeating the PF’s Edgar Lungu, 58. To do so he’ll need to increase the 18 percent of the vote he received in 2011, when he finished third. Lungu has said he will pursue policies aimed at helping Zambia’s poor and developing infrastructure that former President Michael Sata promoted before he died in October, triggering the election.
Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda introduced the mining-tax change to counter what he called an “illusory” system where only two mining companies pay tax.
The system will “kill the dairy cow that gives you milk by milking until blood comes out, the following day you’ll have no milk,” Hichilema said. “Mines must pay fair tax, they know that, we’ve been talking to them. Those mining companies that do not pay taxes, they know that with our government they will have to pay taxes.”
Zambia is Africa’s second-biggest producer of copper. The metal accounts for about 10 percent of gross domestic product, a quarter of government revenue and more than 70 percent of export earnings, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Hichilema will benefit from leadership battles in the both the PF and the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, the official opposition, Neo Simutanyi, director at the Lusaka-based Centre for Policy Dialogue, said in an interview Thursday.
“This time if he is not winning, he will come second,” he said.
Lungu, who’s the defense and justice minister, won a high-court order saying he was properly elected as the PF’s presidential candidate following a contentious succession battle.
The MMD has been torn apart by its own leadership fight. Rupiah Banda, party and country president from 2008 to 2011, returned from retirement to try replace Nevers Mumba as its presidential candidate. The Supreme Court on Dec. 18 confirmed Mumba as the MMD’s leader.
Hichilema said 35 members of parliament from both parties are supporting him in the elections, and lawmakers from other parties are campaigning for him.
“It has never happened in the history of our country,” he said.
The UPND had 32 members of parliament as of Sept. 25, out of a total of 160 that includes the president and speaker. The PF had 74 elected members, and the MMD 37.
The PF won the last elections largely because of Sata’s popularity, Simutanyi said. He founded the party in 2001 on a platform that favored the poor.
“Zambians have now begun to make the distinction that they’ve tried populists, they tried those that made empty promises without having knowledge and the capability to deliver,” Hichilema said. “They’ve seen the consequences of that. They see that we’re consistent.”