LUSAKA (Reuters) - Acting Zambian leader Guy Scott dismissed a presidential front-runner as secretary-general of the ruling party on Monday, pointing to a fiercely contested election in the next three months to succeed the late leader Michael Sata.
State radio in the southern African nation gave no reasons for Scott's surprise removal of defense minister Edgar Lungu from his top post in Sata's Patriotic Front (PF) party, which came to power after elections in 2011.
When Sata died in a London hospital last week at the age of 77, Vice President Scott became Africa's first white leader in 20 years. However, he is constitutionally barred from running for president because his parents were born in Scotland.
Lungu, who is also justice minister, had often stepped into Sata's shoes as 'acting president' in the last year. Many Zambians had considered 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.
The decision by Scott, a Cambridge-educated economist, to dismiss Lungu from the helm of the PF is also likely to fuel speculation he may seek to run for the presidency, regardless of the constitutional restrictions.
(Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Ed Cropley, Larry King)