The 1996 constitution provides for an executive President, who is head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The President is limited to a maximum of two five-year terms. The Vice- President and the cabinet are appointed by the President from the National Assembly. The cabinet is responsible for formulating policy and for advising the President on policy. It is accountable to the National Assembly.
The legislative powers of the republic are vested in parliament, which consists of the President and the National Assembly, whose 150 members are elected every five years from single-member constituencies. The President has the power to nominate eight special members of the National Assembly, five of whom can serve in the cabinet.
Both the President and the National Assembly are elected by universal adult suffrage. The election regulations are drawn up by an Electoral Commission, which may also prescribe and review the limits of constituency boundaries. The constitution contains a bill of rights, setting out the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, and providing protection from discrimination on the grounds of race, tribe, gender, place of origin, marital status, political opinions, colour or creed.
The most controversial of the recommendations of the draft report of the National Constitutional Conference, published in July 2009, concerned limiting the powers of the President and changing the basis of presidential elections so that Presidents are elected by at least 50 per cent of the electorate, rather than the simple majority required by the 1996 constitution, thus introducing the potential for multiple rounds of voting. Supporters of this change believed that this would strengthen the prospects of a fragmented opposition, while detractors argued it would increase the cost of elections.
In May 2001 Vice-President Christon Tembo and more than 80 senior members of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) left the party to form the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD). Since, under the 1996 constitution, Frederick Chiluba could not stand for a third term of office and he was unable to muster enough support for constitutional change, Levy Patrick Mwanawasa was chosen in August 2001 as MMD’s candidate for the 2001 presidential election, the third since the restoration of multiparty politics in July 1990.
In a very close contest and with only 29 per cent of the votes Mwanawasa won the December 2001 presidential election, Anderson Mazoka of the United Party for National Development (UPND) came second with 27 per cent, Tembo (FDD) secured 13 per cent, Tilyeni Kaunda (United National Independence Party – UNIP) ten per cent and Ben Mwila (Republican Party) five per cent. In the simultaneous general election the MMD won 69 seats, the UPND 49, UNIP 13 and the FDD 12, but, even with its eight nominated members, the MMD was short of an absolute majority. The opposition was, however, fragmented and during 2003 Mwanawasa encouraged further fragmentation by bringing several individual opposition members into positions in his government.
In a fiercely contested presidential election in September 2006, Mwanawasa won a second term substantially increasing his share of the votes to 43 per cent. Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front came second with 29 per cent of the votes; Hakainde Hichilema of United Democratic Alliance came third with 25 per cent. In the parliamentary elections that were held on 28 September and 26 October 2006, Mwanawasa’s MMD gained 74 seats and with the eight nominated members an overall majority in the National Assembly. The Patriotic Front won 43 seats and the United Democratic Alliance 26. Turnout was 71 per cent.
President Levy Mwanawasa suffered a stroke in June 2008 and died in August of that year. Vice-President Rupiah Banda became acting President in June 2008 and was sworn in as President in November, shortly after he won the October 2008 presidential election with 40.6 per cent of votes. He defeated Sata of the Patriotic Front (38.6 per cent) and Hichilema of the UPND (20 per cent). Turnout was 45 per cent.
Presidential, parliamentary and local elections were held on the same day in September 2011. Michael Sata (Patriotic Front) won the presidential election, securing about 43 per cent of the votes cast; the incumbent Banda (MMD) took about 36 per cent and Hichilema (UPND) about 18 per cent. In the parliamentary elections the Patriotic Front won 61 seats, MMD 55 and UPND 29. Turnout was 54 per cent. A Commonwealth observer group led by former Nigerian President General Yakubu Gowon affirmed that the elections represented further progress for Zambia in strengthening its democratic processes and that voters were able to express their will freely.
President Sata died on 28 October 2014 and Vice-President Guy Scott took office as acting President. The consequent presidential election, held on 20 January 2015, was won by the Patriotic Front’s candidate, Edgar Lungu (with 48.8 per cent of votes). His principal opponent was Hakainde Hichilema of UPND (47.2 per cent). President Lungu was sworn in on 25 January 2015 to serve the rest of President Sata’s term until the next presidential, parliamentary and local government elections in 2016. Turnout was 32 per cent.
General elections were held in Zambia on 11 August 2016 to elect the President and National Assembly. A constitutional referendum was held alongside the elections, with proposals to amend the bill of rights and Article 79.
President Edgar Lungu, previously elected in January 2015 to finish the term of Michael Sata, who died in office, was re-elected to a full five-year term when he scored above the 50% + 1 mark of the vote, defeating opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema. Lungu's Patriotic Front also won a majority in the National Assembly for the first time, winning 80 of the 156 elected seats.