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Late Zambian President's Will Makes no Reference to Succession As Party Meets Friday to Find New Leader

Two days after the late Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa was laid to rest, the National Executive Committee of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) meets Friday to choose its candidate in the forth-coming presidential by-election. The two top contenders are Vice President Rupiah Banda who is acting head of state and Finance Minister Ng'andu Magande.

Friday's meeting also follows comments by former first lady Maureen Mwanawasa suggesting that her late husband preferred Magande as his successor. But Mwanawasa's will, which was broadcast Thursday night on state radio and television made no reference to succession.

Mbita Chitala is a senior member of the ruling MMD. He told VOA that Zambia is a democracy and not a monarchy and the party will most likely choose Vice President Banda.

"I have been tapped by my party to advise as to who in my view should be a better candidate to represent us and let us win to retain the leadership of the country. And we have suggested that the current president Rupiah Banda who was the vice president for the last two years would be our best candidate," he said.

Chitala said Vice President Banda, who is now acting president deserves to lead the party because of his many qualities.

"One of them is that we have the vice president of the country who is also senior trustee in our party and most qualified in terms of education and otherwise. We feel that he is truly would be the most representative of the country as well as the most experienced among those who may wish to vie," Chitala said.

Former first lady Maureen Mwanawasa reportedly told a local newspaper last week that her late husband preferred Magande as his successor.

But Mwanawasa's Will, which was broadcast Thursday night on state television and radio made no reference to succession. In stead the late president said he did his best to improve the standards of living for Zambians.

He talked about his strong belief in national development, good governance, the rule of law and democracy and his fight against corruption.

Mwanawasa expressed regrets in his will that in the process of fighting for the good of his country he may have forsaken himself.

"I regret that in my zeal to facilitate this fight, I lost friendship with a number of some of my best friends and at many times my own life and those of my family members were threatened," Mwanawasa said in his will.

Chitala said the late Mwanawasa could not have mentioned succession in his will because Zambia is a democracy and not a monarchy.

"As regards the alleged will of our former president, unfortunately our country is not a monarchy. We are a democracy, and the way the founders of our party enshrined the democratic principles of succession, there has to be election among the contending members. And President Mwanawasa was a very good friend of mine, and we used to discuss these matters and as far as I knew him, he could never depart from the doctrine of democracy and become the monarchy behavior person," Chitala said.

He accused former first lady Maureen Mwanawasa of once having an interest in succeeding her husband.

"To the contrary, I think that has just been unfortunate politics by the former first lady who herself had shown interest of wanting to succeed her late husband. But of course our custom doesn't allow such kind of behavior, and we advised her that if she wants she can go out for a while may be mourn the late husband for at least year before getting back in politics," Chitala said.

The late President Mwanawasa was revered for growing Zambia's economy. But Chitala said Finance Minister Magande is not the architect of the economic success under late President Mwanawasa.

"Magande was never the architect. In fact that was the policy of former President Frederick Chiluba, and you know in economics the gestation period of programs takes many years. But one thing you cannot take away from Mr. Mwanawasa is that he was very dedicated to good governance," he said.

Chitala dismissed suggestion that Vice President Banda, who is 71 years old, maybe too old compared to Magande.

"That is not correct. Mr. Banda was made vice president and senior trustee of the party and makes him qualified to be the candidate for president. In respect to age, yes he's 71, but of course this is a transition period between now 2011, and we think that he is the best person to give us this transition. He is very energetic as far as we are concerned and we think he will be the best person to give this transition. Mr. Magande himself I think he's 62 or 63," Chitala said.