Sata Wins! Opposition Secures Rare Victory in Zambia

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Opposition leader Michael Sata has won the Zambian presidential election at the fourth time of asking.   This makes Zambia one of the only countries in Africa to have had two transfers of power, along with Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Madagascar, and Mauritius.  The parliamentary results have yet to be released.

King Cobra has won at last! Early on Friday morning, the Chief Justice declared that with 95% of constituencies counted opposition leader Michael Sata had built up an unassailable lead in the presidential election, securing 1,150,045 votes, around 200,000 more than the sitting President Rupiah Banda. Most commentators (me included) had expected a narrow victory for Banda but our very own Sishuwa Sishuwa correctly argued that Sata could win.  Thanks to Sishuwa’s proximity to Sata, we were able to tweet the result on Thursday evening, shortly after Banda had privately conceded defeat.

Following recent periods of democratic backsliding in Malawi and Uganda, not to mention previous episodes in Kenya and Zimbabwe, the victory of an opposition leader will be a shot in the arm for African democracy. But what will it mean for Zambia?  Much will depend on how Sata sets the tone during his first few days in office.  Will he seek to settle old scores, or to form an inclusive administration that can reach out to all Zambians?  Although his reputation for rabble rousing rhetoric strikes fear into foreign investors and donors alike, Sata is something of a political chameleon and may not live up to the more audacious ambitions of some of those that have voted him into office.  During the last few weeks of the campaign he eased off his ‘anti-Chinese’ rhetoric and during a trip to Oxford a few months ago he spoke mainly about good governance and human-rights.  Now he has secured high office, Sata may step back from his more aggressive stance in order to broker alliances—with members of the former regime and the Chinese government—necessary to consolidate his hold on power. On the other hand, there is a real danger that, drunk on power, he will adopt an increasingly populist and fractious approach that will alienate donors and foreign investors and usher in a period of political and economic instability.

Whether the PF can avoid this outcome will in part depend on the quality and effectiveness of Sata’s closest advisors.   It is currently unclear who Sata will choose as his Vice President.  This is a particularly important question because the PF is a party that is not institutionalized and the party is heavily dependent on its leader. Sata’s age (74) and reported ill-health also makes the selection of a credible Vice President essential.  Sata is said to be considering two candidates for the role: Guy Scott, PF Vice President and Inonge Wina, PF National Chairperson.  Both candidates are highly respected and both would represent a major first for the southern African country.  Scott, MP for Lusaka Central, would be Zambia’s first white VP, while Wina, MP for Nalolo, would be the first female VP.  At present, the smart money seems to be on Wina, who would become one of the most powerful women in African politics.

However, the parliamentary elections could still complicate the PF’s best laid plans. It is still not clear whether the PF will secure a legislative majority.  If they don’t—and this is plausible—Sata will need to negotiate with either the former ruling party or the UPND, the third party of Zambian politics.  Either way, the relevant partner may demand the post of Vice President in return for supporting Sata’s legislative agenda, moving Zambia into coalition politics for the first time.

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