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Zambia – Expert Briefing

  • Zambia’s 1996 constitution provided for an executive president, limited to serving a maximum of two five-year terms. An amended constitution, promulgated on 5 January 2016, maintains this provision and has an added requirement that the president receives 50 percent of votes cast. It is therefore likely that a second round run-off will follow polling day on 11 August 2016
  • Two heads of state have died in office during the past decade, resulting in two “presidential by-elections”. However, the new constitution provides for the president and vice-president to be elected as running mates on a joint ticket, enabling the deputy to complete the incumbent’s term should he/she die in office
  • The National Assembly has 150 members, elected every five years from single-member constituencies. The President has the power to nominate eight special members of parliament, five of whom can serve in the cabinet
  • Follow the campaign on Twitter using the hashtags #ZambiaDecides, #ZambiaVotes, #Zambia2016#ElectionsZambia2016 

Kenneth Kaunda dominated Zambian politics for three decades. Elections in January 1964 saw Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP) win a majority of seats in the legislative council, enabling him to become prime minister. Kaunda subsequently led Zambia to independence on 24 October 1964 and won re-election as president in December 1968.

In 1972, at Kaunda’s behest, the Chona Commission proposed a series of constitutional amendments which made Zambia a “one-party participatory democracy” when enacted in August 1973. Henceforth only UNIP members could participate in elections, which were held in 1973, 1978, 1983 and 1988, with a majority of voters endorsing Kaunda on each occasion. In 1990, the Mvunga Commission prepared a new constitution, enacted in August 1991, and culminating in the first multi-party elections in October 1991.

Kaunda was resoundingly defeated by Frederick Chiluba of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), who obtained 76% of the vote. The MMD took 125 of the 150 parliamentary seats. In May 1996, Chiluba used this majority to amend the constitution and exclude Kaunda from standing for election, as well as reducing the threshold for the election of the president. His decision largely ignored the recommendations of the Mwanakatwe Commission, which were based on popular consultation.

Chiluba won the November 1996 elections with 73% of the vote, while the MMD increased its dominance of the National Assembly, obtaining 131 seats. Under the two-term limit enshrined in 1996 constitution, Chiluba ceded his party’s nomination to Levy Mwanawasa.

Mwanawasa narrowly won the December 2001 presidential election with 29%, ahead of Anderson Mazoka of the United Party for National Development (UPND) with 27%. The UPND disputed the tally, while the EU election observation mission concluded that it could “not [be] confident that the declared results represent the wishes of the Zambian electors on polling day.”

At the legislative elections, MMD took 69 seats, the UPND 49, UNIP 13, and the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) won 12. In the absence of an overall majority in the National Assembly, Mwanawasa co-opted opposition politicians, promoting them to ministerial positions. However, Zambia’s third president failed to obtain sufficient parliamentary support to enact the recommendations of a National Constitutional Conference.

In September 2006, Mwanawasa won a second term with 43%, ahead of Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front (PF) who obtained 29%, and Hakainde Hichilema (HH) of UPND with 25%. MMD obtained 74 seats which, with the eight nominated members, provided them with a parliamentary majority.

Mwanawasa died in August 2008 following a stroke that June. He was succeeded by his vice-president, Rupiah Banda. In an October 2008 presidential by-election, despite a low turn-out, Banda narrowly defeated Sata, obtaining 40.6% compared to 38.6%. He took 20%.

Zambia experienced its second peaceful transfer of power in September 2011, when Sata won the presidential election with 43% of the vote compared to Banda’s 36% and HH with 18%. The PF obtained 61 parliamentary seats, while the MMD took 55 and UPND 29.

Sata died in October 2014, leading his deputy, Guy Scott, to assume office. As Scott’s parents were not born in Zambia, he was ineligible to stand in the presidential by-election which followed. In the absence of an anointed successor, the PF initially split into two factions before reconciling behind Edgar Lungu, a lawyer who had served as defence and justice minister. The MMD was divided between supporters of Nevers Mumba, a televangelist and former vice-president, and Rupiah Banda, who sought to return to State House. Mumba was confirmed as the MMD candidate, but Banda endorsed Lungu.

Turnout was an extremely low 32% for the January 2015 presidential by-election, which Lungu narrowly won with 48.3%, compared to 46.7% for HH. Fewer than thirty thousand votes separated the candidates, and an electoral map showed a divided nation. HH carried the UPND heartland of southern province, in addition to western, north-western and central provinces. Lungu won in the capital, Lusaka, and the heavily-industrialised Copperbelt, as well as Luapula, Northern and Muchinga provinces (which Sata established in October 2011). Support from Banda delivered eastern province. Whether Banda can be counted on to repeat this performance, at a time when turnout is expected to increase, will likely dictate the outcome of the 2016 elections.

Nick Branson is a Senior Researcher at Africa Research Institute.