Mwanawasa wanted Finance Minister as Zambia president: widow

LUSAKA – Zambia's first lady has expressed concern over possible divisions in the ruling party and said her late husband wanted Finance Minister Ng'andu Magande to succeed him, a local newspaper reported on Sunday.

Sixteen candidates are jostling to succeed President Levy Mwanawasa, who died in Paris on August19, ahead of a presidential vote in November.

Analysts have said the high number of presidential hopefuls may be a sign of deep divisions in the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).

The Post newspaper quoted Mwanawasa’s widow as saying that the late leader had told her shortly before he died that he preferred Magande to succeed him after his second and final five-year term in 2011, and that the cabinet was aware of his wishes.

"He (Mwanawasa) knew that he (Magande) had strengths and weaknesses, but the strengths outweighed the weaknesses," she told the Post in an interview.

Magande and Vice president Rupiah Banda, who is now acting president, have emerged as the strongest contenders.

The MMD will select a candidate on September 5, two days after Mwanawasa’s funeral.

Mwanawasa had led Zambia since 2001 and was re-elected in 2006. His tough stance against corruption endeared him to donor countries and he was credited for turning the southern African nation into one of Africa’s economic success stories.

The MMD has been in power since 1991 when trade unionist Frederick Chiluba ousted Liberation hero Kenneth Kaunda. The party remains popular and has majority seats in parliament.

Main opposition Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata, and Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development, the third biggest party in parliament, will also contest the presidential vote. Reuters