Lusaka - Economic emancipation is dominating Zambian campaigns for the January 20 presidential by-election as candidates intensify campaigns.

Political leaders are pledging low costs of food, job-creation and free or subsidised education up to tertiary level at a time when the country’s poverty levels are said to be stretching across 60 percent of the total population.

Former President Rupiah Banda, who is running for the Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), told his supporters during meetings in central Zambia to vote for him and allow him to bring back the good economic strides Zambia enjoyed.

He pledged to bring back lowered prices of essential commodities such as maize meal, which used to cost K35 (about R405) under his presidency, but are now at K8.

Banda, an economist, claimed that foreign direct investment was exceedingly high under his watch due to the high confidence levels and policy predictability he promoted.

Similar pledges are being made by the candidate of the United Party for National Development (UPND) Hakainde Hichilema who wants to provide free education up to tertiary level while stitching policies that will promote job-creation. An estimated 3.5 million qualified Zambian youths are unemployed.

Hichilema, who is an economist and a wealthy business executive, wants votes from the Zambian people on account of his vast experience in business and commitment to poverty alleviation through an investment in agriculture.

“I am a farmer and I have experienced poverty before. I was staying in the village I just came to Lusaka after being selected to study at the University of Zambia. So vote for me I am like you,” Hichilema said during a rally in northern Zambia.

In western Zambia, where there have been spontaneous calls to secede from the rest of Zambia, ruling Patriotic Front (PF) candidate Edgar Lungu has told his supporters that he wants to revamp the cash nut plantation and improve industrial activity spar grown.

He is riding on the popularity of late President Michael Sata who is credited for his insistence in infrastructure development.

“I do not have a vision of my own because I want to protect the legacy of President Sata. I will do what he was doing so that I do not divert from the PF programmes,” said Lungu.

Lungu caused a stir when he visited Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe last week.

Online media reported he was in Zimbabwe to seek campaign funds. He has denied the allegations but confirmed his trip and meeting with Mugabe.

Zambia has a total of 5.167,154 million registered voters but apathy has taken its toll in the recent elections, raising worries that this could produce a minority president.

In the 2011 presidential election, Sata won with 1.170,966 votes followed by Banda with 987,866 votes. Hichilema received 506 763 votes bringing the total number of voters to 2.665,595.

Edith Nawakwi, the only female presidential candidate so far, who leads the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) pledged an economic turn-around should Zambians trust her with presidency.

During the launch of her campaigns, she accused the PF government of failing to lift Zambians out of poverty and destitution. - Sapa