LUSAKA — Edgar Lungu was yesterday inaugurated as Zambia’s president at the National Heroes’ Stadium in the capital, Lusaka, after winning an election last week that his main opponent called a “sham”.
Lungu, the 58-year-old candidate of the ruling Patriotic Front, took the oath of office after defeating Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the opposition United Party for National Development, by a 48,3% to 46,7% margin.
He will lead the Southern African nation until regularly scheduled presidential elections in September next year.
Lungu’s biggest challenge is to turn around an economy that’s slowing because of a slump in the price of copper which accounts for more than two-thirds of Zambia’s export earnings.
He must solve a standoff with the mining industry over a tax system introduced this month that may lead to 12 000 job losses this year alone, according to an industry lobby group.
“We are all aware in our country of the significant decline in commodity prices including our major commodity copper,” Lungu told the near capacity crowd in the 50 000-seat stadium.
“There will, therefore, be a need not only for belt tightening, but for radical rethinking of the way we do things. It cannot be business as usual.”
The International Monetary Fund said Zambia’s economy grew 5,5% in 2014, its slowest rate in 12 years, though Finance minister Alexander Chikwanda said the real figure was 6%.
About 60% of Zambia’s 15 million people live on less than $1,25 a day, according to the World Bank.
“The fabulous wealth living side by side with abject poverty in our country is a moral outrage and a slur on our collective conscience and it hurts me,” Lungu said.
“It’s unacceptable and we must all join the crusade against poverty.”
Lungu must deal with the prospect of Barrick Gold Corp the biggest producer of the metal, putting its Lumwana Mine under care and maintenance.
The vote in Africa’s second-biggest copper producer was called after the death in October of President Michael Sata.
It was hampered by heavy rains and mired in controversy after Hichilema accused officials of the Electoral Commission of Zambia of manipulating the results.
The commission denied the allegation.
Observers from the 15-nation Sadc called the election “peaceful, transparent, credible, free and fair”.
The weakening of populist factions within the Patriotic Front last year should allow Lungu to adopt “a more conciliatory stance” toward investor concerns, Barnaby Fletcher, an analyst with Control Risks in London, said in reply to e-mailed questions.
“There are reasons to believe that significant amendments will be made to the controversial new mining sector fiscal framework.”
Lungu assured local and foreign businesses that their investments are “safe and shall continue remaining safe on my watch”.
He appointed former Home Affairs minister Ngosa Simbyakula Justice minister and asked him to deliver a new constitution.
“A few more” ministers will be sworn in on Monday, he said, adding “some may be reappointed, others might not”.
Meanwhile, the MDC has congratulated Lungu on his close victory.
The party’s international relations and external relations secretary Kurauone Chihwayi said the MDC joins the nation, Sadc, Africa and the world in congratulating Lungu for winning the elections.
“Zambians exhibited a great deal of political maturity that should be emulated by other Southern African leaders and political institutions that approve the abuse of political power and violent strategies to win elections,” he said.
“The MDC family is urging President Robert Mugabe and his party Zanu PF to draw lessons from the way Zambia has been holding its elections.”
Chihwayi said his party desires a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe, where freedom of speech and freedom of association is respected.
“Zimbabwe is in isolation today because of Zanu PF’s violent behaviour, intolerance, abuse of office and serious human rights abuses by the Mugabe administration,” he added.