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By Shapi Shacinda

LUSAKA (Reuters) – Zambia will prevent officials accused of corruption from contesting presidential elections as the country starts a process to find a successor for President Levy Mwanawasa who died last week, a senior minister said.

Defence Minister George Mpombo said on Sunday the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy had started the nomination process for candidates wanting to contest the presidential vote on behalf of the MMD.

Mpombo, who is also on the ruling party’s top decision-making body, the National Executive Committee, confirmed reports carried by state media that nominations had started and would close on Tuesday.

Before Mwanawasa died in a French military hospital on August 19, local media reported that some senior MMD officials and former ministers, previously accused of graft, were planning to contest the presidential elections if Mwanawasa died.

Senior MMD party officials say the NEC would elect a candidate on September 5 instead of holding a national convention because there was little time to organise a convention.

“The government will ensure that people with political careers dented with corruption don’t contest because they will obviously be a liability to the party. We are alive to the immediate consequences of electing such people,” Mpombo said. 

Mwanawasa, who will be buried on September 3, was a favourite of donor countries for tackling corruption and turning the southern African nation into one of the continent’s economic success stories.

He had led Zambia, Africa’s biggest copper producer, since 2001, winning re-election in 2006.

Vice President Rupiah Banda is acting as president until new elections are called, which under Zambia’s constitution, must be within 90 days of the presidential office becoming vacant.

The presidential term is five years, but the next president will complete the remainder of Mwanawasa’s term before seeking re-election for another five years in 2011.

Mpombo said Mwanawasa’s legacy would have to be upheld by his successor.

“We are looking for a leader with the vision to reinvigorate the president’s policy on (sound) agriculture, to restore confidence to investors and somebody who will stand for national reconciliation. It should be somebody with a big vision on development and unity,” Mpombo added.

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