LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia’s interim president Guy Scott reversed his dismissal of defense minister and presidential front-runner Edgar Lungu as the ruling party’s secretary-general on Tuesday after the sacking triggered protests.
Scott told state-owned ZNBC Radio he had rescinded his order a day after making it - but did not spell out the reasons for his change of mind.
Scott became Africa’s first white leader in 20 years after the death last week of President Michael Sata but he is constitutionally barred from running for president because his parents were born abroad, in Scotland.
He also gave no reasons on Monday for removing Lungu from his top post in Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) party, which came to power after elections in 2011.
The dismissal had triggered speculation that Scott, a Cambridge-educated economist, may be making a play for the presidency despite the constitutional constraints.
“It could have been one way of testing the popularity of Lungu because it appears Scott and Lungu are from two opposing factions of the ruling party,” Lee Habasonda, an analyst with the University of Zambia said.
“Obviously it had a serious backlash and he had no option but to rescind the decision,” Habasonda added.
Lungu said he has called for an emergency meeting of the PF central committee on Tuesday to discuss his dismissal. Scott said he had decided to reinstate Lungu after meeting senior PF members and cabinet ministers.
Police in Lusaka fired tear gas to stop protests by students and PF members against Lungu’s dismissal on Monday night.
Lungu, who is also justice minister, had often stepped into Sata’s shoes as acting president in the last year. Many Zambians consider him the person most likely to win the presidential elections that are due by the end of January.
Other possible contenders include former justice minister Wynter Kabimba, finance minister Alexander Chikwanda and Sata’s son Mulenga, who is currently mayor of Lusaka, a position his father occupied in the 1980s.
Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Andrew Heavens