Zambia sets 2016 election date, scraps power price hike

Zambian President Edgar Lungu speaks before attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz (Reuters)

By Chris Mfula LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia's new constitution on Monday set Aug. 11 as the date for five-yearly presidential and parliamentary elections, previously set by the president, lining up another close vote after last year's neck-and-neck race. Also on Monday, President Edgar Lungu, who plans to stand in the election, reversed a sharp increase in electricity tariffs, saying the hike had ended up hurting the poor, presidential spokesman Amos Chanda said on Monday. Lungu, who is due to ratify the constitutional amendments on Tuesday, defeated the opposition United Party for National Development's (UPND) Hakainde Hichilema last January. Hakainde said the election had been "stolen". Lungu, a lawyer, won 48.3 percent of the vote to 46.7 percent for Hichilema, a wealthy economist. "The new constitution has a fixed election date and that will take effect as soon as the president signs," Chanda said. Other amendments to Zambia's constitution include a clause requiring a winning presidential candidate to get more than 50 percent of the valid votes cast, Chanda told Reuters. Some analysts criticized as politically motivated Lungu's decision to scrap electricity price increases and sign the constitutional amendments at a lavish public ceremony. "Obviously these are efforts intended to gain political advantage," University of Zambia analyst Lee Habasonda said. "For now the decision to reverse the electricity tariff increase will go down well with the voters but it won't help to resolve Zambia's power problems," Habasonda said. Zambia's state power utility Zesco Ltd. on Dec. 3 nearly doubled the price of electricity. The International Monetary Fund had welcomed the price hike, saying it would ease power shortages that have put pressure on the economy of Africa's No. 2 copper producer. The tariff rises were expected to raise revenue that would see $3.7 billion invested in power generation projects, adding capacity to the national grid, Zambia's energy regulator said. (Editing by James Macharia and Louise Ireland)