LUSAKA (Zambia), Jan 25 — Zambia’s new president Edgar Lungu describes himself as an “ordinary Zambian of humble beginnings” but he showed his fighting spirit when he overcame a bruising internal power struggle to become the ruling Patriotic Front’s candidate to replace the late Michael Sata.
His determination paid off, as the 58-year-old former justice and defence minister was yesterday declared the narrow winner of a closely-fought election for the remaining year-and-a-half of Sata’s five-year term.
Lungu’s slim victory puts him in charge of Africa’s second biggest copper producer until elections next year.
“He is a team player, he does not look down on others and he is not the ‘I know it all’ type as the case is with some legal brains,” said Alex Ng’oma, a political analyst at the University of Zambia.
“The man is a person of sober character and relates well with the ordinary citizens.
“You can see the way the ordinary people like him,” he added.
Lungu, who beat off a challenge to his candidacy by a party faction backed by interim president Guy Scott, has promised political stability and the continuation of programmes introduced by Sata, who was popular with the youth and with workers.
These programmes include a contentious mining tax regime which has put the government at loggerheads with mining firms already buckling under a fall in global commodity prices.
His main rival for the presidency, opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, had called the tax hikes business unfriendly.
‘An inclusive government’
“I want to form a government which will be very inclusive,” he told AFP in a recent interview, promising to reach out to opposition politicians and even those within the PF who “viciously” opposed his candidacy.
Analysts say, however, that he has a low public profile and no proven track record, despite being a founding member of the party.
“Edgar Lungu does not have the charisma,” said political commentator Neo Simutanyi.
“Until Michael Sata died, no one knew him. His performance in government didn’t stand out.”
Lungu, who sports a trim beard, graduated with a law degree from the University of Zambia in 1981 and also underwent training as a military officer.
He cut his political teeth at the United Party for National Development, but in 2001 he quit to form the PF with Sata.
When the PF first came to power in 2011, he was given a junior ministerial post responsible for disaster management before being appointed home affairs minister.
On social issues he revealed a conservative side after the arrest of two Zambian gay men in 2013.
“Those advocating gay rights should go to hell,” he said.
“That issue is foreign to this country.”
He was born on November 11, 1956 in Chadiza in eastern Zambia and is of the minority Nsenga ethnic group. He is married and is now a grandfather. — AFP