By Hicks Sikazwe
Zambia’s Justice Minister Edgar Lungu has stepped into Michael Sata’s shoes becoming the sixth president of Africa’s leading copper producer.
Lungu, who turns 59 in November, was elected in the January 20 by-election beating his closest rival, Hakainde Hichilema of the United for National Development Party (UPND) who was making the fourth attempt at the country’s top job in a tightly contested race.
“I will look after you the way Mr Michael Sata did. I will take care of you, but I won’t lose my temper the way he sometimes used to,” Lungu told a roaring crowd at the eve of the Election Day in Lusaka, the capital.
Returning officer Justice Lombe Chibesakunda declared Lungu winner who polled 807,925 against Hicilema’s 780,168. The results were announced after 22.30 on Saturday January 24 at Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka.
Lungu, stood on the ticket of the ruling party, the Patriotic Front formed by Sata who died in London on October 28 last year.
Electoral Commission Chairperson Irene Mambilima said one of the major challenges the commission faced in the exercise was the weather and appealed to the government to review legislation to ensure elections are not held in the rainy season under any circumstances.
Earlier, Hichilema said at a press conference his party now set sights to the 2016 general elections and hoped that the poll will be held under a new constitution. He appealed to supporters countrywide to remain calm.
A party member from the grassroots, Lungu was perhaps the closest and most trusted of Sata’s officials in the PF and the government. He was the only minister who acted as president more than any other in cabinet.
A former Home Affairs Minister, until Election Day, he was also the sitting Defence Minister and Secretary general of the party. He is also chairman of the PF’s disciplinary committee.
As Sata’s closest ally he is expected to carry on where his predecessor left in terms of mining policies that are meant to take the country forward. He moves into State house at a time fuel prices continue to go down providing hope of increased copper production through out the country.
But he also inherits a serious controversy over the review of mineral tax for open pit mining which has led to one of the main investors in the industry Barrick Gold Corporation threatening to leave in March if the government does not back down.
However, Lungu and former acting president Dr Guy Scott have assured that the government was discussing the issue with the Canadian multinational. More 4,000 jobs are on the line at Lumwna the affected mine in Solwezi.