Before the International Monetary Fund’s bailout negotiations, Zambia prepares for tight elections

Africa Political Update

Zambia is preparing to hold a tense presidential election, which will test the health of democracy in this southern African country, and may further delay negotiations on an important IMF rescue plan in the event of a long-term dispute.

After police said two of his supporters were killed in clashes with suspected opposition members, President Edgar Lungu had sent troops to the streets before Thursday’s poll. Critics accused Lungu of preparing to manipulate and intimidate his main opponent Hakainde Hichilema. The president rejected these claims.

Against the backdrop of the country’s worst economic crisis in decades, the vote may be deadlocked. Many observers believe this is the most important election since Zambia’s founding president Kenneth Kaunda was removed from office in a groundbreaking multiparty poll 30 years ago.

Zambia, Africa’s second-largest copper producer, defaulted on US$3 billion in USD bonds last year, which was part of more than US$12 billion in foreign debt that deteriorated after the government invested heavily in infrastructure projects. But before the vote, restructuring negotiations have been put on hold.

Zambian soldiers have been patrolling the streets before the election ©Salim Dawood/AFP/Getty

Zambia needs to obtain a loan from the International Monetary Fund as a stopgap measure as soon as possible after the election and to facilitate negotiations with creditors. The fund said in May that it “reached a broad consensus on the macroeconomic framework,” indicating that the transaction is nearing completion, but it is waiting for more details on policy reforms.

After the government ran out of money to repay creditors and closed the borrowing channel, the livelihoods of ordinary Zambians have been affected by the debt crisis. Under Lungu, despite the surge in copper prices this year, the country’s greater control over copper mines, the main source of export revenue, also encountered operational problems.

Before a partial recovery, the Zambian Kwacha has been falling against the U.S. dollar for the past two years. The inflation rate rose to over 24% in July. According to data from the International Monetary Fund, after last year’s pandemic plunged Zambia into its first recession since the 1990s, economic growth is expected to be less than 1% by 2021.

Lungu won the presidency for the first time in the 2015 by-election after the death of the current president. He will open the airport terminal and power sector financed by debt as the cornerstones of his campaign, and compare his record with that of Kaunda. compare.

“They told people that we built this bridge and we built this hospital, so they voted for us,” but because the debt crisis failed to resolve, the hospital could not afford the cost of nurses or medicines, said the former Ng’andu Magande. Minister of Finance. The ruling Patriotic Front “does not know the purpose of the International Monetary Fund… Magander added that they do not know what to do” negotiating with bondholders and are “losing friends”.

Opposition leader Hiki Lema is a wealthy businessman who promised to prioritize debt restructuring and bring foreign investment back to the mines, even though he said conditions are favorable for Zambians. When the ruling party first came to power ten years ago, Zambia was one of the fastest-growing economies on the African continent, with a long-term record of political stability.

Zaynab Mohamed, a political analyst at NKC Africa Economics, said that this week’s election is too close and will “probably be the most unpredictable election in Zambia to date”. “In turn, uncertainty will exacerbate political tensions.”

The President of Zambia, Edgar Lungu, squatted down while talking to people when the airport terminal opened

Edgar Lungu will face senior opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema for the third time in the upcoming election © Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP

Zambian opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema speaks to his supporters

Hakainde Hichilema vowed to bring foreign investment back to the mines of Africa’s second largest copper producer © Salim Dawood/AFP/Getty

Hicklema’s National Development Coalition has a traditional power base in southern and western Zambia. Lungu’s fortresses are in the north and east. Analysts say that the capital Lusaka and the copper belt mining center are playing a role and may determine the outcome.

This year is the sixth time Hickelma ran for a senior position, and his third time against Lungu, who defeated him by a majority of less than 15,000 in 2016, accounting for just over half of the vote. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the votes this week, the runoff must be held.

The 2016 polls led to a prolonged standoff. After Hichilema was suspected of voting rigging and was sentenced to jail for treason in 2017, Zambia’s reputation for political stability was damaged.

Amnesty International stated this year that in the past five years, civil rights have “have deteriorated significantly” due to the “silence and self-censorship” of the media and civil society. Last year, a teenager was arrested for defamation after criticizing Lungu on Facebook.

Lungu refuted allegations that he was prepared to manipulate this year’s vote in front of international observers. Analysts say that teams from the African Union and the Commonwealth will vote in Zambia, but the pandemic restrictions will even limit the number of local observers at polling stations.

If Lungu loses, the ruling party has stated that it plans to challenge the outcome.

In a country where the average age is less than 18, the economic setbacks of Zambian youth will play an important role in voting.

Former Finance Minister Magander said that after independence, Kaunda had only about a hundred graduates to help him build Zambia, but now with the economic recession, hundreds of thousands of people are working hard to make progress. “The country has no viable plan,” he added. “You just feel very depressed.”

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