On Tuesday 20 January Zambia will go to the polls to elect a new president following the death of President Michael Sata in office on 28 October last year. Eleven candidates have successfully filed their nomination papers with the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ).
As in 2011 when Sata won with 42.24% of the vote, one of this election’s big battlefronts is on social media. All campaigns but one use Facebook to post photos of their “mammoth” rallies to show that they are “popular”, “doing fine” and “winning”.
Voter apathy could certainly have an impact on this election. Recent by-elections have seen a sharp drop in voter turnout with some constituencies recording turnouts of as low as 20% of registered voters.
One of the reasons is that 2011 voters roll is still in use and has not been updated. This means some of the 5.1-million registered voters may have died or moved to other constituencies or countries. Some may have lost their voter cards and have not gone to the trouble of replacing them.
At a recent election workshop ECZ Director Priscilla Isaac attributed apathy to voter fatigue. In the past three years, there have been 23 parliamentary by-elections.
So what choice will face the voters that do turn up? And what are the issues and promises the candidates’ campaigns are built on?
- THE FRONTRUNNERS
Zambia’s current Minister of Justice and Defence was controversially elected president of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) to succeed Sata, who led the PF from its inception in 2001 till his death.
Lungu is one of the founders of the PF and is the only serving member of parliament among the 11 candidates vying for State House.
As the ruling party’s candidate, Lungu will rely on Sata's reputation and his achievements – especially in growing the economy – to woo voters. Lungu was often chosen to act as president when Sata was out of the country and Lungu’s campaign team use this to remind Zambians that Lungu will ensure continuity and stability.
His campaign slogan dubbed “ifintu ni Lungu” (meaning “Edgar Lungu is the real thing”) has excited young people and gone viral on social media.
The former lawyer has received endorsements not only from his own PF MPs but also from the opposition Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) and a number of presidential hopefuls who have withdrawn from the presidential race.
Popularly known as HH, Hakainde Hichilema has contested all presidential elections since 2006 as leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND). In each of the previous three he came third, but his share of the vote dropped from 25% to 18% in 2011.
Inviting people “to board Flight HH2015”, Hichilema is promising to enact a new constitution by 2016, to lower cost of living by reducing the price of fuel and to create more jobs by changing the retirement age from 65 to 55 years.
Hichilema, a wealthy businessman, is using a helicopter to campaign in traditional PF strongholds, such as the provinces of Luapula, Muchinga and the Northern Province, which he rarely visited in his previous presidential campaigns.
With the support of several eminent politicians and Zambians, including a host of former cabinet ministers, Hichilema hopes to pull a surprise at the ballot box.
- LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
As president of the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) Nevers Mumba is Zambia’s official leader of the opposition. The MMD ruled Zambia for twenty years following its transition from a one party state in 1991.
But in Mumba’s two years at the helm of MMD he has suffered an internal rebellion among his National Executive Committee (NEC) members, a suspension by the NEC and a “coup” when the party adopted former president Rupiah Banda as its 2015 presidential candidate. This was later overturned by the Supreme Court but most of Mumba’s MPs and NEC members are publicly campaigning for Lungu or Hichilema.
Before joining politics, Mumba was a powerful televangelist known for this slogan “Zambia Shall Be Saved”. He is invoking it for this campaign, saying he wants to bring back the former ruling party to “save” Zambia.
School education would be mandatory if he came to power and Mumba says he would also reintroduce agricultural subsidies.
- THE ONLY WOMAN
Edith Nawakwi is campaigning for the second time to become Zambia’s president. She is the only woman in the race, just as she was in 2011, when she came 7th with 0.25% of the votes.
This tough talking politician was one of the founders of the MMD and served in various cabinet portfolios in the Frederick Chiluba-led MMD government. In 2001 she was expelled along with several other ministers and senior MPs after opposing Chiluba’s unconstitutional third term bid.
Nawakwi later joined fellow former cabinet ministers in the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD). She was elected FDD president in 2005 and has led the party ever since. During her reign, the FDD has lost all but one of its parliamentary positions.
Her campaign focuses on the fight against corruption – which she promises to do by decentralizing the government.
At the launch of her presidential bid last month, Nawakwi was flanked by several women’s rights activists who in turns proclaimed that Zambia is ready for a female president.
- THE LIBERATOR’S SON
A son of Zambia’s first president, Kaunda is the presidential candidate of Zambia’s independence party, the United National Independence Party (UNIP). Kaunda entered the presidential race for the second time, having attained sixth in 2011.
Described as “the Obama of Zambia” by his supporters, Kaunda prefers door-to-door campaigns as opposed to public rallies. Kaunda says that Zambians are suffering because of all the companies that were privatized or closed after UNIP lost power in 1991. He promises to recreate them if voted in as president.
Flash back Kaunda and betty ask Tilyenji to step down By Brighton Phiri Monday August 18, 2008 [04:00] pic.twitter.com/0QkhedlkPK
— UNIP (@unipzambia) October 5, 2014
- THE LONG SHOTS
Eric Chanda served as the PF’s National Youth Secretary at the time it was in opposition. He later re-emerged as General Secretary of the opposition Alliance for a Better Zambia (ABZ) which is headed by a Catholic priest, Father Frank Bwalya. A year ago Chanda resigned from the ABZ after a disagreement with the clergyman and formed his own political party, the 4th Revolution Party. Little is known about Chanda’s ideological stance but he was a radical leftist during his time in the PF. At one time, he led a team from various political parties to a Youth Summit in China where he praised China’s rise to economic prosperity. Now he promises that people arrested on corruption charges will not be eligible for bail and that if found guilty, be sentenced to a maximum time of life imprisonment.
Elias Chipimo Jr.
Elias Chipimo Jr. is the president of the National Restoration Party (NAREP), a party he founded in 2010. In 2011, Chipimo got 0.3% of the votes and came fifth.
During the four years NAREP has been on the political scene, Chipimo helped party hopefuls campaign in several parliamentary by-elections, but without success.
On 11 January he wrote that he was inspired to become a politician after a road accident that claimed his mother’s life in 2008. Elias Chipimo Sr. survived, but was diagnosed with stomach cancer just before Christmas. Chipimo Jr. announced that he was temporarily suspending his campaign to be at his father’s side when he turns 84 in a South African hospital.
Brigadier General Godfrey Miyanda was a career soldier who served in various government positions after retiring. He has contested every presidential election since 2001.
He was one of the cabinet ministers fired by late President Chiluba in 2001. After his dismissal, Miyanda formed the Heritage Party which he has led ever since.
Over the years Miyanda has been pushing what he calls the “village concept”; where villages are developed so that the rural poor can enjoy the same standard of living as urban dwellers.
Some have described the retired general as Zambia’s best presidential candidate for his insight into constitutionalism. He occasionally writes long papers on Zambia’s constitution making process and the need for governments to observe the rule of law.
But his reputation of only campaigning “at the last minute” is leaving supporters disappointed.
Dan Pule is a Zambian preacher and politician who is known for his popular Dunamis Fire Impact religious programmes on television.
His first step into politics was in the Frederick Chiluba-led MMD government when he served as Minister of Science and Technology before going back to preaching. In 2013 he formed the Christian Democratic Party (CDP).
Pule wants to make Bible studies a compulsory subject in all schools countrywide. He says it is the only way to stop juvenile delinquency.
- THE ENVIRONMENTALIST
During Zambia’s transition from a one party state to multi-party politics in 1991, Sinkamba was a student leader who fought with the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) for political change.
He disappeared from the public eye until 1998 when he founded Citizens for a Better Environment, an NGO which has been vocal on environmental issues, especially on Zambia’s copper mining belt.
In 2011 he entered fulltime politics and founded the Zambia People’s Pact, a platform on which he helped campaign for the PF to win the general and presidential election. In May 2013 he formed the Green Party.
The environmentalist is grabbing headlines for promising that if he wins the election, he would legalise the production and export of medicinal marijuana and would replace the Drug Enforcement Commission with a national research bureau for complementary and alternative medicines.
- THE HERBALIST
Ludwig Sondashi is a veteran politician and lawyer who has served in several positions in the MMD government, most prominently as Minister of Works and Supply.
After leaving government, Sondashi invented Sondashi Formula 2000 (SF2000) which he claims has “cured” several HIV patients. He later founded the Forum for Democratic Alternatives (FDA).
Sondashi promises that if elected president, he will roll out SF2000 for free to all Zambians living with the HIV virus. (As we have pointed out in a previous report, HIV cures like this should be regarded as false until scientifically proven effective.)
Paul Shalala is a Lusaka-based reporter at the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation. He won second prize in the African Fact-Checking Media Awards for a story about the impact of multi-national mining on local farmers in Zambia. A version of this piece originally appeared on his blog, the Zambian Analyst.