Zambia: Government

Principal Government Officials

Chief of State: President Michael Chilufya Sata
Head of Government: President Michael Chilufya Sata

Zambia became a republic immediately upon attaining independence in October 1964. The elected president is chief of state and head of government. The National Assembly is comprised of 150 directly elected members, up to eight presidentially-appointed members, and a speaker. Zambia is divided into nine provinces, each administered by an appointed deputy minister who essentially performs the duties of a governor. The Supreme Court is the highest court and the court of appeal; below it are the high court, lands tribunal, industrial relations court, subordinate courts, small claims court, and local courts.

The constitution promulgated on August 25, 1973, abrogated the original 1964 constitution. The new constitution and the national elections that followed in December 1973 were the final steps in achieving what was called a "one-party participatory democracy." The 1973 constitution provided for a strong president and a unicameral National Assembly. National policy was formulated by the Central Committee of the United National Independence Party (UNIP), the sole legal party in Zambia. The cabinet executed the central committee's policy. In accordance with the intention to formalize UNIP supremacy in the new system, the constitution stipulated that the sole candidate in elections for the office of president was the person selected to be the president of UNIP by the party's general conference. The second-ranking person in the Zambian hierarchy was UNIP's secretary general.

In December 1990, at the end of a tumultuous year that included riots in the capital and a coup attempt, President Kaunda signed legislation ending UNIP's monopoly on power. Zambia enacted a new constitution in August 1991, which enlarged the National Assembly from 136 members to a maximum of 158 members, introduced two term limits on the presidency, established an electoral commission, and allowed for more than one presidential candidate who no longer had to be a member of UNIP. The constitution was amended again in 1996 to require presidential candidates to have been habitually domiciled in Zambia for 20 years prior to an election and to require that both parents of a candidate be Zambian-born.

In February 2006, the government agreed to allow the formation of a Constituent Assembly to consider and adopt a draft constitution, subject to certain conditions. In August 2007, the Zambian parliament passed a government-sponsored law creating a National Constitutional Conference (NCC) charged with drafting a new constitution. The NCC, comprised of over 500 members drawn from parliament, political parties, civil society, and government, began meeting in late December 2007 and had its mandate extended into 2010. Some members of the political opposition and civil society refused to participate in the NCC, saying that its membership was too heavily stacked in the government's favor and pushing instead for the promised Constituent Assembly. The government presented the final draft of the constitutional bill to parliament in March 2011, but the bill did not receive the necessary two-thirds majority.

Following President Mwanawasa's August 2008 death and in accordance with the constitution, Vice President Rupiah Banda assumed executive powers as acting president. He was required to hold elections within 90 days of Mwanawasa's death, and elections were held on October 30, 2008. Banda was declared the winner after narrowly defeating Michael Sata of the opposition Patriotic Front party by only 30,000 votes. Although international observers were satisfied overall with the conduct of the election by the Electoral Commission of Zambia, Sata sued to have the election results nullified. He withdrew his petition in March 2009 after losing preliminary decisions. Banda was sworn in on November 2, 2008, and announced his new cabinet on November 14.

Banda vowed to continue the business-friendly and corruption-fighting policies of his predecessor, but corruption scandals in the government and the acquittal of former President Chiluba raised questions about President Banda’s initial commitment to fight corruption and promote transparency and accountability in government. Although the Task Force on Corruption established under the Mwanawasa administration prosecuted several cases of abuse of office and high-level corruption, it was stripped of its responsibilities and placed under the ACC in November 2009 by the Banda administration. The dismissal of important anti-corruption officials, including Task Force on Corruption head Max Nkole, prosecutor Mutembo Nchito, and Attorney General Mumba Malila; the government’s failure to appeal corruption cases to higher courts; and elimination of the abuse of public office clause from the Anti-Corruption Act underscored concerns about the government's commitment. In parliamentary by-elections held between 2009 and 2011, candidates from all parties violated the electoral code of conduct because the government lacked sufficient capacity to enforce it. To reaffirm his government's commitment to fight corruption, Banda launched Zambia’s first national anti-corruption policy and companion action plan with anti-corruption targets through 2015. During a national convention held in April 2011, Banda was nominated as the MMD’s presidential candidate for the 2011 general elections. President Banda entered the election with a slightly weakened party after the defection of several party leaders to the political opposition.

On September 20, 2011, Zambia set a record in the southern Africa region by conducting peaceful and credible elections that brought to power an opposition party for the second time since independence in 1964. The Patriotic Front (PF) defeated the incumbent MMD by over 200,000 votes, with Michael Sata winning the presidency. The PF also gained a strong plurality in the National Assembly, winning 62 seats. President Sata’s election platform was to fight corruption. He has also publicly prioritized job growth, poverty reduction, diversification of agriculture (away from maize production), improved government efficiency, expanded health services, and enhanced quality of education.

Another key initiative of the Sata administration is constitutional reform, which has been proposed and then aborted four times previously. Top reforms under consideration include requiring a majority vote for presidential elections, allowing the president to choose his cabinet members from the general public (currently they must be members of parliament), and abolishing the death penalty. Other reforms supported by civil society organizations would limit the power of the presidency and devolve more power to local governments. Sata has appointed a technical committee to draft a constitution based on the recommendations of previous commissions that will be subjected to two rounds of review by provincial and sectoral conventions. The technical committee plans to have a penultimate draft ready for the President’s review by June 2012.

Zambia is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), which is headquartered in Lusaka. Zambia has participated in UN peacekeeping missions in Mozambique, Rwanda, Angola, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and South Sudan.

President Kaunda was a persistent and visible advocate of change in southern Africa, supporting liberation movements in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and South Africa. Many of these liberation organizations were based in Zambia during the 1970s and 1980s.

President Chiluba assumed a visible international role in the mid- and late 1990s. His government sponsored Angola peace talks that led to the 1994 Lusaka Protocols. Zambia provided troops to UN peacekeeping initiatives in Mozambique, Rwanda, Angola, and Sierra Leone. Zambia was the first African state to cooperate with the International Tribunal investigation of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

In 1998, Zambia took the lead in efforts to establish a cease-fire in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After the signing of a cease-fire agreement in Lusaka in July and August 1999, Zambia was active in supporting the Congolese peace effort, although activity diminished considerably after the Joint Military Commission tasked with implementing the cease-fire relocated to Kinshasa in September 2001.

During President Mwanawasa's administration, Zambia contributed troops to support UN peacekeeping operations in southern Sudan. During his tenure as SADC Chair, President Mwanawasa brought the issue of Zimbabwe to the fore in the SADC, taking a lead role in pressuring President Robert Mugabe for reforms in his country. Zambia's history of stability and its commitment to regional peace has made it a haven for large numbers of refugees. Currently, Zambia hosts approximately 49,000 refugees (down from a high of 203,000 in 2002), including roughly 25,500 Angolans and 13,000 Congolese. Refugees of other nationalities are primarily Rwandans, Burundians, and Somalis. Since 2007, 43,200 Congolese refugees have been repatriated from Zambia, and as of 2010 the Government of Zambia and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) closed two of the refugee camps that had housed Congolese. Additionally, as of July 2011, the UNHCR and International Organization for Migration (IOM) had begun the voluntary repatriation process for several thousand Angolans.


CIA World Factbook (February 2012)
U.S. Dept. of State Country Background Notes ( February 2012)