A month after being declared winner of the 2016 general elections, Zambia’s president, Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF), was inaugurated on September 13 for a term that will last until August 2021.
Lungu’s inauguration was delayed by a petition filed by the leader of the opposition United Party for National Development, Hakainde Hichilema, who asked the court to nullify the poll results on the grounds of alleged vote rigging and because Lungu did not reach the 50% + 1 vote threshold. Constitutionally, Lungu should have been sworn in seven days after being declared winner on August 15.
But, constitutionally again, a president-elect cannot be inaugurated if a petition has been filed with the constitutional court by any of the candidates until the court has determined the matter, within 14 days of a petition being filed.
Lungu’s inauguration went ahead because the petition was thrown out after 14 days passed without the court hearing having started. The court blamed the petitioners for wasting time on preliminaries.
Hichilema, who got 47.7% of the vote to Lungu’s 50.4%, says Lungu stole victory from him, and that he will not recognise the president and will fight for justice.
Hichilema, a four-time loser, lost narrowly to Lungu in a snap poll in January 2015 after president Michael Sata died in office.
As Lungu starts his first full five-year term, his focus is on a number of issues, including mining (Zambia’s main foreign exchange earner), agriculture and finance.
The country’s copper mines are grappling with the lowest prices in five years, resulting in the loss of 10 000 jobs and less money in the state coffers. Mining’s woes have been worsened by an unpredictable tax system, which changed three times between October 2014 and June 2015, making it difficult to plan.
But presidential spokesman Amos Chanda says the current sliding royalty taxes, ranging between 3% and 9%, will remain in place until at least 2019.
Since 2011, when Lungu’s PF came to power, US$7bn has been spent on roads, schools, stadiums and airports, and billions more are expected to be spent in the next five years, according to former information minister Chishimba Kambwili.
In terms of a new $1.2bn loan government is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), expenditure will be restricted to specific projects. The IMF and government will aim to stabilise the fiscal position after overspending and heavy borrowing on international markets, including $2bn in eurobonds in 2012-2014. Some energy and agricultural subsidies will likely be scrapped, a move likely to hurt households and small farmers who depend on subsidised fuel and inputs.
A state-owned bank policy analyst, who asked not to be named, says there will be reduced spending and fewer projects during Lungu’s new term, and that the IMF package was inevitable, regardless of who won the election. "The government’s infrastructure programme was overambitious. They have already done more in five years than the previous ones did in 20 years ... Any new government would have been bound by the agreement."
However, Lungu’s immediate priority will be uniting the country after sporadic incidents of violence that erupted in some opposition strongholds after the electoral commission declared Lungu the winner. More than 100 families of Namwala District in Southern Province were displaced and have been relocated after they were allegedly attacked by opposition party supporters.
Three broadcasting stations have had their licenc es suspended for what the Independent Broadcasting Authority describes as "unprofessional conduct ... in the recent past, which has posed a risk to national peace and stability ".
Critics see the move as government’s way of silencing the media.
Meanwhile, Hichilema’s running mate, Geoffrey Mwamba, enigmatically said: "We wish to put it on record that the Patriotic Front will continue having sleepless nights over the stolen 2016 election that has been witnessed in our country."