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Messy struggle for Zambian presidency under way

The battle for Zambia's top job was already under way before long-ailing President Michael Sata died Tuesday, but it looks set to become more messy and more intense in his wake.

When Sata left the country for medical attention in Britain last week, he named Defence and Justice Minister Edgar Lungu as acting president.

Lungu, who is also secretary general of the ruling Patriotic Front, is among the favourites to take over this country of 15 million people, a major copper producer.

He leads one of two main camps which had formed this year within the PF leadership as it became clear that Sata was in poor health -- although this was regularly denied by the government.

Lungu is likely to enjoy the backing of a majority Bemba-speaking group as the presidential candidate, despite that not being his ethnic language.

But a candidate could yet emerge from within that group, which includes Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda, former defence minister Geoffrey Mwamba and Sata's son Mulenga, who is Lusaka mayor and PF chairperson for Lusaka province.

Chikwanda, a veteran finance minister, would at times be given presidential powers when Sata left the country.

But Lungu may have to wait to take his seat at the table.

Under Zambia's constitution his party rival, vice-president Guy Scott, should be acting president until elections are held in 90 days.

Scott, 70, could take up the interim role, but is likely to be ruled out of running for office himself, because although he was born in Zambia his Scottish parents were not.

Even if a new constitution under consideration makes Scott eligible, his chances of being elected president of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) are seen as remote.

He would be Africa's first white president since FW de Klerk led apartheid South Africa.

But Scott has been linked to Wynter Kabimba, who until end of August was the justice minister, and former tourism minister Sylvia Masebo.

Before his unceremonious dismissal, Kabimba, in particular, was seen as close to, and the heir-apparent to, Sata.

Outside the ruling party, former president Rupiah Banda, who is facing graft charges, has hinted at a possible return to active politics.

"I am legally eligible to stand," he told AFP early this month, citing calls from his supporters to return to the political fray.

Banda lost to the PF in the 2011 elections but he could pose a formidable challenge to the ruling party.

Sata was catapulted to the presidency in 2011 amid public anger at corruption and frustration among those yet to benefit from a copper mining boom.

But he leaves behind a country buckling under the weight of unemployment that remains around 60 percent.



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