Zambian Vice-President Guy Scott has been named acting head of state following the death of President Michael Sata, making him Africa’s first white leader since South Africa’s FW de Klerk.
“Dr Scott will act as president of the Republic of Zambia until the country goes for a presidential by-election,” said Defence and Justice Minister Edgar Lungu on Wednesday. This is likely to take place within 90 days.
The announcement averts a possible constitutional crisis that could have seen Lungu and Scott vie for power.
The battle for Zambia’s top job was under way before long-ailing Sata died on Tuesday, but looked to become messier and more intense in the wake of his death.
When Sata left the country for medical treatment in Britain last week, he named Lungu –- a powerful figure in the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) – as acting president.
Scott and Lungu belong to rival factions within the ruling party. But Scott (70) is not eligible to become president because of foreign parentage rules in Zambia’s 1996 Constitution; his parents are from Scotland.
“The government remains intact and so does the Patriotic Front as a party. We shall update on each decision made in this regard,” said Lungu.
The PF secretary general was among the favourites to take over as leader of the major copper-producing country of 15-million people.
Lungu leads one of two main camps that formed this year within the PF leadership when it became clear that Sata was in poor health, although this was denied regularly by the government.
Lungu was likely to enjoy the backing of a majority Bemba-speaking group as the presidential candidate, despite it not being his ethnic language.
Other candidates included Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda, former defence minister Geoffrey Mwamba and Sata’s son, Mulenga, who is the mayor of Lusaka and PF chairperson for Lusaka province.
Chikwanda, a veteran finance minister, was given presidential powers at times when Sata was out of the country.