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Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 10:33 GMT
Profile: Zambia's new leader
Levy Mwanawasa, Zambian presidential candidate
Mr Mwanawasa 'does not tolerate injustice'
By Richard Lee in Lusaka

Six months ago, most people thought that Levy Mwanawasa's political career was over.

He had not held any public office since July 1994 when he resigned as vice-president and seemed content to pursue his highly successful legal career.

But that was before the former president, Frederick Chiluba, failed in his bid to alter the constitution to allow him to run for a third term in office.

Suddenly the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) needed a new candidate and to almost universal surprise Levy Mwanawasa was chosen.

It is a challenge I have accepted with humility. I love challenges

Levy Mwanawasa

Indeed, Mr Mwanawasa claims to have been unexpectedly awoken by a telephone call on 26 August informing him that he would be running for State House on the MMD ticket.


Many people believe that he was hand picked by Mr Chiluba because he would be easy to control, allowing his predecessor to continue to exercise enormous power behind the scenes.

Zambian President Frederick Chiluba
Chiluba chose Mwanawasa above senior party figures

It is a suggestion that both men have strenuously denied and Mr Mwanawasa's first cabinet is certainly not over-stocked with Chiluba's close confidants.

However, as long as his predecessor remains president of the MMD, the belief will persist that Chiluba is still pulling some of the strings.

It is a feeling that was enhanced during Mwanawasa's inauguration speech when he followed in his predecessor's footsteps by criticising domestic opponents and by lashing out at foreign donors.

Whatever Chiluba's motives, Mwanawasa's record as a man of integrity was always likely to be a vote-winner.

The government had long been plagued by allegations of corruption and they needed a candidate with an unblemished record.

'Mr Integrity'

Not only is Mwanawasa untainted by the mistakes of the past five years of MMD rule but he also appears to be squeaky clean.

Street protestors in Lusaka
People power thwarted a Chiluba third term
Even his critics in the opposition parties agree that it is difficult to find any dirt on him. Dr Nevers Mumba, leader of the opposition National Citizen Coalition (NCC), said Mwanawasa is "highly respected for the integrity he has displayed in his public life".

He claims that he resigned as President Chiluba's number two because his integrity had been "put in doubt," following a row with minister without portfolio, Michael Sata.

He has already made it clear that he will not tolerate any corruption or abuse of office in his administration.

During his first official press conference to announce his cabinet, he stressed that his ministers would have to abide by a stringent set of requirements - including honesty, integrity, discipline and devotion to duty.

Any minister caught infringing these rules would, he said, be instantly dismissed.

Legal eagle

Unsurprisingly, Mwanawasa's first cabinet includes a number of fellow lawyers.

Ever since graduating from the University of Zambia with a Bachelor of Law degree in 1973, he has been a practising lawyer.

He has had numerous professional distinctions, among them becoming the first Zambian lawyer to be appointed advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales.

In Zambia, he is famous for taking up cases that few lawyers would even contemplate. But the one case that pushed him into national prominence was a treason case in 1989.

He had to defend former vice president Lt Gen Christon Tembo, who was one of his closest challengers in the elections, and others who were charged with plotting to overthrow the government of the then President Kenneth Kaunda.

After that Mwanawasa joined the MMD and despite his lack of political experience, he was chosen as Chiluba's deputy.

Following his resignation, Mwanawasa initially stayed active within the party. He even challenged Chiluba for the party presidency in 1995. But after failing to unseat Chiluba, he turned his attention to his legal firm and his family.

Health issue

At 53, Mr Mwanawasa is married to a fellow lawyer Maureen with whom he has five children. Although his house lies in an exclusive residential area, Mr Mwanawasa is said to be a man of modest habits. According to government sources, Mwanawasa and his wife are not going to waste any money altering the furniture or the décor in State House.

Meanwhile, everyone is eager to see how well he copes with the stresses and strains of his new job because of concerns about his health.

A big, burly man, Mwanawasa's health became an important issue during the campaign.

In 1992, he was involved in a near fatal road accident and was hospitalised in South Africa for almost a year. Since then his health has not been very good.

His opponents also made much mileage out of Mwanawasa's occasional slips - including one occasion when he referred to Chiluba as his sister.

But Mr Mwanawasa insists he is as fit as a fiddle both physically and mentally. Otherwise, he said, "they would not have chosen me".

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