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Zambia’s Ruling Party Begins Process to Succeed Mwanawasa

Zambia's ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) has begun the process of vetting prospective candidates to replace late President Levy Mwanawasa, although the party said its priority is to give the late president a befitting burial. The MMD also said it is looking ahead to continue Mwanawasa's legacy of entrenching the tenets of democracy as well as fighting corruption. It warned executive members who have allegedly been involved in corrupt practices to stay away from the vetting process. Mike Mulongoti is Zambia's information minister. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that the ruling party is sure of winning the upcoming presidential election.

"For now the government is concentrating more on ensuring that he (Mwanawasa) is given a decent burial and that since the body is going to go around the provinces, we've got nine provinces, and it's only after that will it come back to Lusaka for final burial. I think that is the preoccupation now," Mulongoti pointed out.

He said qualified partisans of the ruling MMD are eagerly engaged in contesting and finding a replacement for the late president.

"As for the ruling party (MMD), of course within the dynamics of internal politics, there is of course jostling for people who would want to participate in this election. But so far, things will only begin to crystallize after the burial," he said.

Mulongoti said those who have been accused of involvement in various acts of corruption would be prevented from participating in the process of finding a successor to late President Mwanawasa.

"Well the late president has said one of the criteria for a person qualified to be a candidate, he must be free from graft, and we will definitely uphold that because the people of Zambia will not like to see a leadership that is corrupt to take charge of the affairs. So that is one of the criteria. And at the end of the day, I'm sure we will succeed to uphold that one. So, all those who are cheating themselves that they will have it easy because he (Mwanawasa) has passed on, will be in for a rude shock," Mulongoti noted.

He said the ruling party would retain power after the election particularly because of the economic policies of the late president.

"I think the development in the economy has been so salutary that there is nobody who can fault our party. And the next election we are talking about is within 90 days and it would be very difficult for our opponents to galvanize resources and support within 90 days to be able to find a candidate who can beat our candidate. So, what he (opposition leader Michael Sata) obtained at that time, I don't think the circumstances are still the same," he said.

Mulongoti said Zambians would want to conduct the upcoming election that would be Zambia centered.

"If you recall that the last elections were sponsored by our own budget, and I think we are still determined to go that way. Of course this is not saying that assistance, which is without strings would not be accepted. But I think we would like to go our own way so that at the end of the day the outcome is a Zambian brewed outcome where the resources are Zambian, the participants are Zambians, and whoever is elected at that time will accept the will of the Zambian people," Mulongoti pointed out.

He said the ruling party would ensure, through transparent means, to maintain its grip on power.

"As MMD we would like to ensure a clean campaign and respect the rule of law and that at any time, we are mindful of the fact that the late president would have even accepted a loss in an election if the outcome was going to affirm to integrity. So, as far as we are concerned, we will do a clean campaign so that the outcome has got integrity," he said.The late President Mwanawasa, who will be buried on September 3, was considered the favorite of donor countries for tackling corruption and turning the southern African nation into one of the continent's economic success stories.

Vice President Rupiah Banda is acting as head of government until new elections are called, which under Zambia's constitution, must be within 90 days of the presidential office becoming vacant. The presidential term is five years, but the next president will complete the remainder of Mwanawasa's term before seeking re-election for another five years in 2011.

Meanwhile, the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) announced Friday that it plans to participate in the presidential by-election and has named Hakainde Hichilema as the presidential candidate.