Lusaka — It had been a rough terrain, but Michael Chilufya Sata remained positive that one day he will rule Zambia.
Popularly known as the "King Cobra", Sata portrayed himself as a man of the poor and the poor have reciprocated - by giving him overwhelming votes. The poor and the rich met - partying the whole night in celebration of Sata's victory outside his residence.
Mr Sata, 74, spent most of the last decade canvassing to become President - losing three times, but still optimistic. Finally, on Friday September 23, 2011, he polled 1,150,045 ahead of agemate Banda's 961, 796 votes, becoming the country's fifth President after the nation's independence from Britain in 1964.The indefatigable populist beat Mr Banda, also 74. He polled 43 per cent of total votes cast against Mr Banda's 36.1 per cent, according to the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ).
Zambia's Chief Justice announced: "Now therefore, I, Ernest Sakala, being the returning officer for the election to the office of the President, do hereby declare that I have in accordance with the law ascertained the results of such election and I therefore declare Michael Chilufya Sata to be duly elected as President of the Republic of Zambia this 23rd Day of September, 2011."
The whole country went into spontaneous celebrations and all the riots that had ensued due to the delay in announcing the results ended. At the tallying centre in Lusaka, President-elect Sata's supporters danced and popped champagne.
The results were released by Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) chairperson, Justice Ms Irene Mambilima. "The total number of registered voters in the seven constituencies yet to submit their results is 157, 710. Assuming that all these voters voted for the runner up (Banda), the leading candidate would still maintain the lead by 30, 539 (votes)," she said. It was a revenge battle. Mr Banda had beaten Mr Sata in the 2008 by-election occasioned by the death of Levy Mwanawasa.
A charismatic crowd-puller, Mr Sata mostly appealed to the urban poor and unemployed youth. Indeed, many of this populous class regard him as their Messiah-speaking and pledging to uplift the lives of the masses at least within the first three months of his presidency.
Mr Sata pledged to empower people with more money in their pockets and a reduction of taxes.
Born and raised in Mpika in Northern Province, Mr Sata worked as a police officer in the colonial government, and as a rail man and trade unionist before joining politics around 1963.
After Zambia's independence in 1964, Mr Sata worked his way up the rank-and-file of Kenneth Kaunda's governing United National Independence Party (UNIP), later becoming governor of the capital Lusaka around 1985.
Kaunda increasingly became despotic under his one-party rule. Hence, following the wind of plural politics that blew in Africa in the early 1990s, Mr Sata joined the late Frederick Chiluba's Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).
When Chiluba formed government in 1991, he appointed Mr Sata to various key ministerial dockets, including local government, labour and health.
As Local Government minister, Sata introduced the notorious public nuisance law that prohibited spitting, urinating and defecating in public. Although the law was initially pilloried, it, together with other reforms he introduced, improved Zambia's image.
Mr Sata had little sympathy for lazy health personnel, and was known for making impromptu visits to hospitals to "whip" them, and also initiated reforms that improved service delivery. His achievements in the various government portfolios earned Mr Sata the "Man of Action" tag that he proudly brandished throughout his campaign - 2001 to 2011 - for the presidency. However, his opponents and commentators say his 1995 appointment as Minister Without Portfolio -- a post he openly admits was mainly for the ruling party's "organisational purposes" -- showed him as a political brute.
As Minister Without Portfolio and MMD chief executive, he is alleged to have organised machete-wielding party youths that hacked opponents during political campaigns in Lusaka in 2001. Mr Sata vehemently denies these allegations, and challenged his accusers to adduce evidence linking him to the violence, and have him arrested. None came forth.
He is widely believed to have led astray the Chiluba presidency and formulated vindictive laws to fix opponents, laws that would late affect him. He was widely believed to have been the architect of the later president's unsuccessful bid to run for an unconstitutional third term.
In the midst of the third term debate, Mr Sata orchestrated the ousting of 22 MMD legislators, including the then Republican vice president, and several ministers who opposed the attempts to circumvent the constitution.
With key potential Chiluba successors gone, Mr Sata was widely expected to be nominated as MMD's presidential candidate for the 2001 polls.
But Chiluba hand-picked outsider Levy Mwanawasa, a one-time vice president who quit in 1994 claiming that Sata had demeaned him--and that the President had not disciplined him.Livid, Sata left the MMD and, together with a Zambian of Scottish origin Guy Scott, formed a two-man party, the Patriotic Front (PF), jumping ship along with his supporters.
A late comer to the presidential race, Sata performed extremely poorly but managed to get a parliamentary seat. Undeterred, Sata and Scott traversed Zambia, canvassing for support ahead of the next election.In just five years, Sata had built an admirably big party, attracting huge crowds at campaign rallies, and it paid off in the 2006 poll, raising 44 legislators in the 150-member National Assembly.
His ties with Taiwan - a disputed territory of China - and his harsh stance on Chinese investors that mistreated Zambian labourers placed Sata on a collision path with the Asian economic giant. China threatened to sever diplomatic ties with Zambia if Sata were elected President.
Though insisting that he supports Chinese investment, Sata says he demands they pay good wages to local workers and that unskilled Chinese stop taking up odd jobs (which could be done by Zambians) such as driving and running small restaurants.
With clear signs that Mr Sata was likely to win the 2011 polls, a senior Chinese officer at the Lusaka embassy said the Asian giant would not withdraw its investment from Zambia, regardless of who wins the elections.
Kaunda himself issued a statement that was pro-Sata.
His opponents accuse Sata of being undemocratic, having been the sole leader of his party since formation without a challenger and appointing allies to the hierarchy, while the first-ever convention endorsed his lone candidacy last month.
Coincidentally, former President Kaunda attended the Patriotic Front's convention, but while he said he did not endorse Sata's candidacy, his sons--Panji, Waza and Kaweche - campaigned for the then opposition leader. In fact, Kaweche stood on Mr Sata's party ticket in the 2011 General Elections.
Sata is undoubtedly a crowd puller in Zambia's modern politics, perhaps holding the largest rallies ever since Chiluba's 1991 rise-to-power days.
With ample coverage by The Post, a two-decade old influential daily that helped end the 27-year reign of Kaunda and propped the MMD to power, Sata's massive rallies and messages were widely publicised.
Mr Sata's main messages in the speeches -- usually delivered in a mix of in his native Bemba language, other local tongues and English - are sometimes incoherent and conjured with off-colour jokes, but he still gets rapturous cheers from all-age group audiences.
As time was nearing him ascending to the presidency, Mr Sata surrounded himself with intellectuals that were sharpening him for the top seat.Mr Sata's main campaign messages anchored on lower taxes, more jobs and wealth creation which are summed up in his "more money in your pockets" slogan.
His vague education background-- though he claims to be a London School of journalism graduate (not clear whether a certificate or diploma) -- is his main drawback when compared with rival Banda, an economist.
The MMD-led constitution making body, in an attempt to bar him from standing, inserted in the draft law a requirement that all presidential candidates hold a university degree, but abandoned it after Sata claimed he had two degrees, though they have not been publicly seen.His backers contend that education is not what a President requires but the ability to deliver, wisdom and love for the people.
His lack of diplomacy and sarcasm-laced and quarrelsome nature has however fanned some people's dislike for him, something he counterbalances by being media-friendly and a self-made spin doctor.Mr Sata knows how to get media attention, and how to counter it.
Mr Sata often visits or storms newsrooms, both privately or state owned, to convey his news or denounce editors and reporters. On radio shows, he is usually heard demanding for his campaign songs to play, agreeing or quarrelling with a caller or interviewer.Mr Sata drew inspiration from Senegalese leader Abdoulaye Wade's many failed attempts before victory to sail to the presidency.
For him, it's a battle well fought. However, expectations are too high. Mr Sata will have to work extremely hard to fulfil the expectation of Zambians.