Zambia became a republic immediately on attaining independence in 1964. The 1996 constitution provides for an executive president who is head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He or she is limited to two five-year terms, and is elected by universal adult suffrage.
The vice-president and the cabinet are appointed by the president from the National Assembly. The cabinet is responsible for formulating policy and for advising the president on policy. It is accountable to the National Assembly.
The legislative powers of the republic are vested in parliament, which consists of the president and the National Assembly. The 150 members of the National Assembly are elected every five years from single-member constituencies. The president has the power to appoint eight special members of the National Assembly, five of whom can serve in the cabinet.
The constitution contains a bill of rights, setting out fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, which include freedom from discrimination on the grounds of race, tribe, gender, place of origin, marital status, political opinions, colour or creed.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The Supreme Court and the High Court are both presided over by the chief justice. The Supreme Court is the constitutional court and the final court of appeal. The High Court has unlimited civil and criminal jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction in respect of appeals from the lower courts.
The subordinate courts are magistrates’ courts and have limited jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases. The local courts are only concerned with cases of customary law and very minor criminal matters. Other courts include the Industrial Relations Court and small claims courts.
Judges of the Supreme Court and High Court are appointed by the president on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission, subject to ratification by the National Assembly. Judges have tenure of office until they retire.
Archaeological findings at Kabwe indicate that Zambia was inhabited from around 10,000 BC. In 1889, the British South Africa Company received a royal charter to explore, develop and administer the territory. In 1924 the company ceded administrative control of Zambia, called Northern Rhodesia, to the British Crown. The Federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, with its own constitution, existed from 1953 to 1963.
In the mid-1950s, Kenneth Kaunda founded the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC), a breakaway from the more conservative African National Congress (ANC), to fight for civil rights for the African population. After the colonial authorities tried to ban ZANC, and after the arrest of Kaunda, his followers evaded the prohibition by remoulding ZANC into the United National Independence Party (UNIP). Zambia became independent from Britain in 1964 and Kaunda served as its first president from 1964 to 1991.
In 1990, the 17-year ban on organised opposition parties was lifted, and elections in 1991 gave a substantial majority to the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). Frederick Chiluba of the MMD was the second president of Zambia, serving from 1991 to 2002.
In 2011, Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front won the presidential election with about 43% of the votes cast; the incumbent Rupiah Banda (MMD) took about 36% and Hichilema (UPND) about 18%. In the parliamentary elections the Patriotic Front won 60 seats, MMD 55 and UPND 28.