The Central Committee of Zambia’s governing Patriotic Front (PF) party has endorsed Home Affairs Minister Edgar Lungu as its candidate ahead of the presidential by-election scheduled to be held in January to replace deceased President Michael Sata.
So far, 63 of the 82 parliamentarians of the ruling party -- representing about 75 percent -- have selected Lungu as the PF’s presidential candidate for the vote.
Supporters of the Central Committee contend the PF has limited time to choose a candidate, mobilize resources and adequately prepare to contest the presidential vote.
Detractors in the party say the move undermines the constitution, however, which says a presidential candidate can only be chosen at a national party convention, where about an estimated 5,000 members will select a candidate to lead the party.
“A final decision is yet to be made,” said Alex Ngoma, political scientist and lecturer at the University of Zambia. “The acting president, who is also the acting party president, has received the endorsement, but he said that he wants time to brood over all these things that are happening, so that he can guide the party on the way forward.”
Some Zambians say the apparent confusion among members of the ruling party could undermine the smooth operation of the government.
“Our concerns as Zambians are that if this process of selecting a presidential candidate by the [PF] is not managed properly, it will surely create instability in the party, which will in turn spill over into the entire nation, [and] all of us are being very cautious about that,” said Ngoma.
If confirmed by the governing party, Lungu faces stiff challenges from opposition leaders, including Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the United Party for National Development [UPND], Nevers Mumba, leader of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy [MMD] and Roman Catholic Priest, Father Frank Bwalya, leader of the Alliance for a Better Zambia [ABZ], at the polls in January.
Political scientist Ngoma said the PF could be in trouble if the party fails to put its house in order during the run-up to the presidential vote.
“The members of the ruling party have to be really careful at this particular time to avoid committing what I am calling political suicide,” said Ngoma.
“The kind of decision they make on the way forward will actually have an effect on what finally happens on that day when the elections would be held. If the ruling party does not come up with a candidate who enjoys popular support, a candidate who does not have marketability, then I am afraid there would be consequences on that Election Day,” he said.
Some analysts blame the apparent confusion in the ruling party on Sata’s death. He has been the leader of the group since the party was formed. They contend that the PF has yet to recover after mourning Sata’s death.
Ngoma disagreed, but said failure of the PF to manage the situation could hurt the party’s chances in the election.
“It will not be correct to say that members of the Patriotic Front appear to be a little bit confused …They know that there is a very serious threat of loss of power, if they don’t play their cards right and so they are busy mobilizing,” said Ngoma.
“We are hearing calls from all over the place, [and] they seem to know what they want. The problem I see is that of failing to manage this process to make sure that it doesn’t send a mixed signal all over the country and across the world,” he said.