Zambia President Edgar Lungu who turned 63 on Monday says he has left the decision on his controversial bid for a third term in office to the ruling Patriotic Front.
In a first of a kind goodwill meeting with journalists at State House, Lusaka over the weekend, Mr Lungu also suggested he was ready to challenge the party’s decision if it did not favour him.
“I’m a sponsored candidate, if the party wants me to contest, I’m game. If they want us to go to the congress, I’m game,” he said.
The congress is the party’s highest decision-making organ and involves voting from its rank and file across the country.
On Monday, President Lungu pardoned a former minister, a military commander and a journalist who was serving 18 months for contempt of court.
The pardon of former mines minister Maxwell Mwale, former Zambia Airforce commander Christopher Singogo and editor-in-chief of the independent Rainbow newspaper Derrick Sinjela was announced in a statement issued by State House spokesman Isaac Chipampe.
The Supreme Court jailed Sinjela last year after he ran articles accusing the apex court of corruption. He was unrepresented in court and only begged the court for leniency.
Singogo was serving a six-year jail term with hard labour for theft by public servant and abuse of office.
The Constitutional Court in December 2018 cleared President Lungu to run in 2021 in line with the country’s constitution which says a successor to an incapacitated president is deemed to have served a full term if he was in office for at least three years.
TORN IN THE MIDDLE
President Lungu took over in February 2015 following the death of Michael Sata before being elected as president in the August 2016 elections.
This means his first term was only one year, six months.
The party is torn right at the middle over his candidature with insiders saying he should allow another candidate to take a shot at leading the country of 17 million people.
The party secretary general Davis Mwila has called for a lull until the party’s central committee makes a decision.
The “get-together” also turned into a discourse on the country’s energy crisis and the economic slump caused by drought and falling mining revenues.
Low water levels at the country’s main power plant, Kariba dam, has left households with more than 12 hours of load shedding.
The country shares the dam with Zimbabwe.
State utility Zesco has applied to increase the rationing to 15 hours even as it imports power from South Africa’s Eskom.
“The initial requirement is to pay $44 million (Sh4.4 billion) of which $10 million (Sh1 billion) has already been paid. Another $14 million (Sh1.4 billion) will be paid next (this) week,” he told reporters gathered at the State House lawn.
He said the imports were a stop-gap measure as the 750 megawatts of power from Kafue Gorge Lower is expected to feed the national grid from March next year.
Mining companies, the country’s economic backbone were also negotiating power imports.
Normal rainfall is forecast after a devastating drought that hit farm output causing a food insecurity being aggravated by panic buying and smuggling of maize, the country’s stable, to neighbouring countries.
"The challenge of electricity power supply and load shedding has increased the cost of production and prices of mealie meal prices,” President Lungu said.