7. November 2008

Mining job losses may be first test for new president

Zambia¹s new president Rupiah Banda faces the worst of all possible worlds - a collapse in demand for copper in the midst of a world economic crisis, together with a hair thin majority in the election.
Now he can expect floods of newly unemployed miners and their families, already giving their votes to the opposition, to increase difficulties for his administration. Miners and their families make up only 60,000 of the jobs in Zambia, but they represent the core of the working class and of support for opposition leader Michael Sata.

The opposition has launched a legal challenge to the fairness of the poll, but there were only isolated incidents of violence after the vote was announced. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) election observer mission said the vote was free and fair, but a court still needs to rule on this.

In the face of this prospect Banda has tried to cement his slender advantage at the polls by a speedy inauguration, mimicking the response by the Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki earlier this year.

Banda, who was acting president after the death a month earlier of Levy Mwanawasa, won 40.09 percent of the vote, followed by Sata, who won 38.13 percent. The margin of victory was just 35,209 votes in a low poll of 45 percent, or 1.8-million of Zambia¹s 3.9-million registered voters. Given the narrowness of the win there has been some criticism that he did not wait for Sata to make his court challenge and thus to gain the legitimacy that a favourable verdict would give.

It also criticised the willingness of regional leaders, including SA’s President Kgalema Motlanthe, to witness Banda¹s swearing-in ceremony just 24 hours after the Electoral Commission had released its final results. The need to demonstrate support for a successful African election in the midst of the Zimbabwe farce appeared to have driven them.

Banda¹s other response has been to keep making unlikely promises, despite the gloomy climate; he said immediately after his election that he would make the country a ‘hub for investment’. For that he would have to overturn the recently enacted and popular tighter tax provisions on the mining companies. He also said he would to try to diversify foreign investment beyond copper, but every sector that could draw in investment is being hit by the global recession.

Banda will serve only the three years remaining in Mwanawasa¹s term. (SouthScan)

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