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A Presidential by-election took place on January 20, 2015, triggered by the death  of President Michael Sata on October 28, 2014, in London, where he was hospitalized. The article 38 (1) of the Constitution stipulates that “if the office of the President becomes vacant by reason of his death an election to the office of the President shall be held in accordance with the Article 34 within ninety days from the date of the office becoming vacant.” The winner of the election will complete President Sata’s term, which expires in September 2016. It is worth noting that following President Sata’s death, Vice President Guy Scott was named interim president, becoming the first  white leader on the continent since South Africa’s Frederik Willem de Klerk.

On the road to the election, political parties were engulfed in brutal infighting. In the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) Miles Sampa won a disputed  conference, while Vice President Scott seemed to be working against Defense Minister Edgar Lungu. Eventually, Lungu emerged as the candidate of the PF putting an end to the internecine struggle. The widow of President Sata, Christine Kaseba Sata, a pediatrician, toyed with the idea “to unite the party and build on the achievements of her late husband.”  Political drama unfolded also in the opposition Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) where the initial candidate, Nevers Mumba, was removed and replaced by former President Rupiah Banda. When the nomination dust in the parties settled, the Presidential race boiled down to a two-way contest between Lungu of the PF and Haikande Hichilema from the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND). Lungu tapped into the support of the working class who had benefited from infrastructure projects in rural and poor areas, while Hichilema, a businessman had won over the support of the middle-classes and investors.

With regards to the political fundamentals of the country, the President serves as both the head of state and head of government.  The term lasts 5 years and re-election is permitted. 158 seats comprise the unicameral National Assembly, out of which 150 are directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote and 8 are appointed by the president. The electoral system for both the presidential election and the 150 directly elected seats is First Past The Post (FPTP).

RESULTS

Voter turnout  was only 32.36%, significantly lower than the 53.65% recorded in 2011.

Edgar Lungu of the ruling PF emerged victorious with 48.3% of the vote, slightly ahead of Hakainde Hichilema of UPND, who obtained 46.7% of the vote.

The election was deemed free and fair, and election observers were “impressed with the performance of the Electoral Commission of Zambia, because this was a snap election and they had to put the machinery in place and run the election within 90 days from the death of the late president.”  However, runner-up Hichilema denounced the election as a sham that does not reflect the will of the people but urged his supporters to stay calm and focus on winning in 2016. With regards to the Electoral Commission it is worth mentioning that it is headed by Justice Irene Mambilima, who has been referred to as “one among the few Iron Ladies the country has known in the last 10 years” and as a “legend of firmness and no nonsense.”

Women’s Political Participation

Lungu made history when he selected Inonge Wina as his Vice President, making her the first woman to ever hold the position and the highest ranking woman in the political history of Zambia. Before her appointment, Wina had held ministerial portfolios in Sata’s Cabinets, first as Minister of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs and then as Minister of Child Development. A passionate women’s rights activist, her involvement in public life dates back to the 1970s. Among her many achievements, “she was instrumental in promoting women’s human rights agenda, resulting in the Zambian government’s establishment of the Victim Support Unit under the Zambia Police Service” and also “in 2000, she led the women’s movement in the Red Ribbon Campaign

The only female presence in the presidential race as a candidate was Edith Nawakwi of the Forum of Democracy and Development. She crossed the finish line third obtaining only 0.92% of the vote. Nawakwi ran on a platform of promising to restore the lost faith of the public in politicians. She was endorsed by civil society and women’s groups under the rationale that “it is high time that a woman ruled the country as men seem to have failed to manage the affairs of the nation.”

In a country where women comprise only 12.7% (20 out of the 158 seats) of the national legislature, Wina’s appointment as Vice President and Nawakwi’s presidential campaign, have the potential to renegotiate the masculinist nature of high politics, help change the public face of leadership and open up space for more women to contest and win seats in the upcoming 2016 election. 

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