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Politics | Society

Mwanawasa death reports threaten political turmoil

afrol News / IRIN, 3 July - The reported - and later denied - death of Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa is generating fears of political turmoil in his ruling party, and that the opposition will capitalise on this, political analysts told the UN media 'IRIN'.

President Mwanawasa suffered a stroke on the eve of the African Union (AU) summit in Egypt and was admitted to a private hospital on 29 June. He was flown to a clinic in Paris, the French capital, on 2 July in a semi-comatose state. Zambia's vice-president, Rupiah Banda, the Acting President, yesterday described Mr Mwanawasa's condition as stable, but the Zambian embassy in South Africa today reported the state leader had died in Paris earlier today. This was later denied by offical Zambian sources.

"What we foresee happening now is a lot of bickering and fighting within the [ruling] MMD [Movement for Multiparty Democracy]. People will be fighting each other and trying to position themselves. Even those in politically appointed [by the president] offices are very much unsettled at the moment," a political analyst, who declined to be identified, told 'IRIN'. "The opposition, on the other hand, is also looking at how they can benefit from this misfortune, so this issue can actually destabilise the entire country," the analyst said.

According to the Zambian constitution, which is being reviewed, should a serving President die in office or become incapacitated, the Vice President would immediately assume the presidency for the remainder of the five-year electoral term.

Mr Mwanawasa, who was also the current chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) of 14 member states, survived a near-fatal car accident in 1991, which left him with speech impediments, and suffered a mild stroke ahead of Zambia's 2006 elections. His health was a major issue in the campaign of his opponent, Michael Sata, 71, who also spoke out fiercely against Chinese investment in the country, while expressing support for Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe.

Mr Mwanawasa won the presidential election with 42 percent of the vote to Mr Sata's 29 percent, but the opposition Patriotic Front party secured the parliamentary seats in the capital, Lusaka, and the country's economic heartland, Copperbelt Province in the bitterly contested 2006 elections.

The Zambian President, together with the past and current Presidents of Botswana, was one of the first SADC leaders to openly criticise Mr Mugabe's policies.

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