Zambia’s Constitution Changes may benefit Hakainde Hichilema

Hakainde Hichilema in kalumbila
Hakainde Hichilema in kalumbila

Zambian leader Edgar Lungu signed into law constitutional changes setting new rules for general elections on Aug. 11, including a requirement that the winner must gain a majority of the votes.

The amendments require that presidential hopefuls select a running mate who will be their vice president and take over in the case of a leader’s death. That avoids the need for early elections that were held after the deaths of two sitting Zambian presidents in less than five years. Lawmakers must hold a grade 12 certificate to stand for election, according to the new rules.

“The country will forever remember this day as one that brought us to the shores of giving ourselves a truly people-driven constitution since 1964,” Lungu said Tuesday at a ceremony held at a sports stadium in Lusaka, the capital, referring to the year Zambia gained independence from the U.K. “The journey has been long and hard.”

While critics had argued the government should hold a referendum to approve a new constitution, Lungu said the exercise would be costly and that it would be best to make amendments to the existing one first. The changes, which allow Zambians to hold dual citizenship, don’t incorporate all of those included in a draft constitution that has been in the works since 2003, and the final version Lungu released in 2014 when he was justice minister.

Constitutional Court

Under the amendments that parliament approved in December, elections will be held every five years on the second Thursday of August, which falls on Aug. 11 this year. A constitutional court will also be established as part of the changes.

“This is another step in Zambia’s peaceful democratic development and is a credit to the people of Zambia that even after a long process they can come to a peaceful conclusion,” Janet Rogan, United Nations resident coordinator, said in comments broadcast over state-owned ZNBC TV.

The changes may benefit Hakainde Hichilema, president of the opposition United Party for National Development, according to Clare Allenson, sub-Saharan Africa analyst at Eurasia Group in Washington. Lungu beat Hichilema by 27,757 votes in the January 2015 elections triggered by the October 2014 death of President Michael Sata. Mine closures and firings could swing votes in the key Copperbelt province in favor of the UPND, Allenson said. Zambia is Africa’s second-biggest copper producer.

“So long as he retains his support level from January –- likely given the negative economic climate -– Hichilema only needs to shift votes in one other major region to exceed 50 percent,” she said in an e-mailed note. “Copperbelt, with the highest number of registered voters in the country, is likely to provide UPND the necessary votes.”

Lungu said he’ll win the election with at least 71 percent of the vote, according to a report on Lusaka-based Q-FM radio on Jan. 3.

Zambia’s economy grew by an estimated 3.4 percent in 2015 and it “remains strong despite the slump in copper prices and the unfavorable weather conditions,” Lungu said Dec. 31. The government was targeting growth of at least 7 percent.