By Scoop Reporter
PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu would rather risk a civil war than let United Party for National Development (UPND) president Hakainde Hichilema gain state power because he fears he would send him to prison, Africa Confidential claims.
In its latest report, Africa Confidential claims President Lungu’s close associates have confirmed that discourse adding that he now prefers Defence Minister Davies Chama as his running mate in the 2021 race as opposed to Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya because he is less ambitious and more loyal to him.
The report also suggests that President Lungu is not convinced that if he does not contest the 2021 elections and allow Finance Minister Bwalya Ng’andu to take over the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) there is no guarantee that this faction will protect him from prosecution once he is out of office.
“The President has also indicated in private conversations that he might consider not seeking re-election if he is guaranteed immunity from prosecution, gets a decisive say on his choice of successor, and the leader of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), Hakainde Hichilema, is kept out of State House, we understand (AC Vol 58 No 9).
“’The Boss says he would rather risk a civil war than let Hichilema gain state power because he fears he would send him to prison,’ one of Lungu’s close associates told Africa Confidential. Lungu is not convinced that the pro-Ng’andu faction will honour its pledge to protect him from prosecution should he leave office, but he has much greater confidence that Chama would do so.
“The President has in the recent past shown a growing appetite to deploy the army to quell public incidents of unrest, including those that could have been easily handled by the police. Security sources say that this could be a dress rehearsal for a possible unfavourable result from the 2021 election. The Government has recently procured substantial quantities of crowd-control equipment.
“Chama, who was recently promoted by Lungu to a senior leadership role in the PF, is a Bemba speaker from Luapula Province, but it is not known whether the pro-Ng’andu faction would support his candidacy,” reads the report in part.
The report also says that in the meantime, the President appears to have settled Mr. Chama as his running mate as the party rebrands for the polls.
“However, Lungu is worried that Chilufya will react by challenging him for the PF’s leadership at the party’s elective conference, originally scheduled for this month. Should Chilufya cooperate, Lungu, who has vowed to keep the health minister in his post during his trial, plans to ensure that he is either acquitted of all charges or let off the hook by pressuring the Director of Public Prosecutions to discontinue the case.
“If he refuses to play along, Lungu plans to instruct the ACC to bring serious charges against him that would end his political career with a conviction, we hear. Lungu had previously hinted to Chilufya that he preferred him as his successor or running mate, but PF insiders told Africa Confidential that Chama is now preferred because he is seen as less ambitious and more loyal to the President.
“If the Chikwanda-Chitimukulu group rejects Chama, then it is likely to challenge Lungu should he refuse to accede to its demands. If the President ignores the group, it may support a rival candidate at the elective conference, form a breakaway party or throw its support behind an existing one, or frustrate a constitutional amendment bill that would clear the path to Lungu’s re-election but still requires a two-thirds parliamentary vote (AC vol 59 No 3, Judges to rule on Lungu’s future). The bill’s prospects have been hit by Covid-19’s spread in parliament and the sudden death of two MPs who supported it,” reads the report.