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LUSAKA, Jan 29 (Reuters) – Zambia believes its candidate to run the African Union’s secretariat has a strong chance of winning the post, President Levy Mwanawasa said on Tuesday.

Mwanawasa said he was certain Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika, 64, Zambia’s ambassador to the United States, was qualified for the post of chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission.

“I am going to Ethiopia very confident that we are winning, but I do respect the other candidates,” Mwanawasa told reporters before departing for an AU heads of state summit in Addis Ababa.

The vote for the post is expected on Thursday.

Zambian officials say the continent’s economic powerhouse South Africa, and other countries in southern Africa, back Mbikusita-Lewanika, a former university lecturer and UNICEF advisor.

“The only worry is if Libya will field a candidate. What this means is that the vote expected from West African and Arab nations may be lost or divided. But the campaign has gone very well and we expect Inonge to win,” one cabinet minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

Mwanawasa’s backing for Mbikusita-Lewanika for the African Union post comes after he defeated his former rival in 2001 presidential elections.

Mbikusita-Lewanika, who hails from a royal family in Zambia, has been an advocate for women’s and children’s rights.

A government source said Mwanawasa would meet several West African presidents prior to the vote to campaign for Mbikusita-Lewanika. (Reporting By Shapi Shacinda; Editing by Jon Boyle)