Lusaka - Zambia's founding president Kenneth Kaunda on Wednesday put his weight behind opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema who is challenging President Levy Mwanawasa in September 28 elections.

The much-respected Kaunda said Hichilema, a businessman and a relative newcomer in politics, was the best candidate to run the impoverished southern African country.

"The young man HH is the right man for the job. Zambians should vote for him because he has leadership qualities," Kaunda said in a live radio interview.

Hichilema is being fielded by the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), a coalition of three opposition parties including the former ruling United National Independence Party, which Kaunda headed for 40 years.

Kaunda's third born son, Tilyenji, now heads the party.

Kaunda gave a thumbs down to main opposition leader Michael Sata, who has attracted controversy by threatening to send Chinese traders packing if voted to power.

"Sata cannot rule this country. He does not have leadership qualities. I know him very well," said 82-year-old Kaunda, who led Zambia from independence in 1964 until 1991.

Kaunda's support is a boost for Hichilema, 44, who is a relative political unknown.

Mwanawasa appears to be the frontrunner among the five presidential candidates, although he faces a major challenge from Sata, 68, a veteran politician and former minister.

Zambia's presidential elections will be held simultaneously with parliamentary and local elections. - Sapa-AFP