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Friday, August 7, 2020

Can Zambia’s opposition unseat President Lungu in the 2016 elections?

Columns Can Zambia’s opposition unseat President Lungu in the 2016 elections?

President Lungu during the first-ever Zambia Medical association annual ball and awards gala at Inter Continental Hotel in Lusaka on Saturday, December 19,2015 -Picture by THOMAS NSAMA
President Lungu during the first-ever Zambia Medical association annual ball and awards gala at Inter Continental Hotel in Lusaka on Saturday, December 19,2015 -Picture by THOMAS NSAMA

With the economy faltering, Lungu will face a strong challenge at the polls. His ability to stay in power will be determined by a range of factors including some complex electoral mathematics.

With less than a year to go before Zambia’s presidential and general elections, President Edgar Lungu and his governing Patriotic Front (PF) face a stern electoral challenge from the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) led by Hakainde Hichilema.

Lungu narrowly defeated Hichilema, 53, in the January 2015 presidential by-election occasioned by the death of then president Michael Sata. The 59-year-old lawyer obtained 48.3% of the 1,671,662 total votes cast, ahead of Hichilema who polled 46.7% and the nine other opposition leaders who shared the remaining 5%.

Out of Zambia’s ten provinces, Lungu won six: Eastern, his home area; the five provinces from which the populist and Bemba-speaking Sata drew most of his support; Lusaka, the capital; Copperbelt; and three Bemba-speaking rural communities of Luapula, Muchinga and Northern provinces. In addition to Southern province, where he comes from, Hichilema secured the neighbouring Western, North-Western and Central provinces. At 32%, the national voter turnout was the lowest recorded for a presidential election in Zambia’s history.

Since his ascension to power, Lungu has presided over a deteriorating economy beset by falling copper prices, a crippling energy crisis that has badly affected production, a 60% depreciation of the Kwacha against major convertible currencies since January, a sharp increase in inflation (from 7% in January to 19.5% in November), and a budget deficit of 8% of GDP (relative to the 4.6% originally projected in the 2015 budget).

It may be too early to predict the outcome of the 2016 polls, which, if Lungu assents to the recently passed Constitution of Zambia Bill, will be held on 11 August. But what is certain is that this gloomy economic picture threatens to undermine Lungu’s electoral prospects and has heightened Hichilema’s hopes.

In an attempt to divert public discussion from its lack of fiscal and monetary discipline and excessive public extravagance, the government has blamed the economic challenges on adverse climatic conditions like poor rainfall and on external factors such as the slowing of the Chinese economy. For its part, the opposition has dismissed the government’s explanations and accused Lungu of lacking competence.

In October, the President sought divine intervention when he declared a Day of National Prayer and asked Zambians to lobby God for solutions. A successful business magnate, Hichilema is now trying to position himself and his party as Zambia’s saviour – though he has yet to offer any clear plans as to how he would rescue the collapsing economy. Considering his extremely narrow defeat in January 2015, the UPND leader has, in the last few weeks, talked up his chances of unseating the incumbent in 2016. But can he really do so? Four major factors are likely to determine the outcome.

The impact of urban unrest

The collapse of copper prices and critical power shortages have led to about 8,000 mining job losses on the influential Copperbelt, worsening the already soaring national unemployment rate. The impact has been instant. On 2 December, close to 200 discharged miners rioted in Chingola in protest against the layoffs, their reduced retrenchment packages and the government’s lacklustre response.

State police used tear gas and force to disperse and arrest the demonstrators and other Copperbelt residents remonstrating against the high cost of living and chanting anti-PF slogans. A few days later, disaffected miners held similar protests in the other mining towns of Kitwe and Mufulira.

There is consensus in the global mining industry that the price of copper, which accounts for 70% of Zambia’s export earnings, may remain low for a considerable time, unless unforeseen factors alter this adverse outlook. This means the country’s bleak economic position may be prolonged, and that the rising urban unrest is set to intensify.

The flashpoints are likely to spread to other urban centres such as Ndola on the Copperbelt and Lusaka, where the escalating prices of essential commodities and a recent 70% hike in electricity tariffs amidst daily power outages have triggered public outrage.

Of particular concern to Lungu is that the Copperbelt and Lusaka together contributed nearly half (47%) of his national tally as he secured 71% of the presidential vote on the Copperbelt and 61% in the capital. Any slump in his support in these two provinces, relative to any success Hichilema has in identifying himself with popular protests and marshaling the support of disgruntled social groups, will almost certainly deal a fatal blow to President Lungu’s re-election chances. In other words, what Hichilema needs to secure the presidency is to win his main constituencies with huge margins and closely trail Lungu in PF strongholds.

Turnout and over a million new voters

On 9 December 2015, the Electoral Commission of Zambia announced that it had added 1.4 million new voters, mostly youth, to the national electoral roll. Since the voter registration exercise is set to continue until March 2016, this number is likely to rise.

In view of the fact that young people are the hardest hit by unemployment and the general economic woes, with the country’s youth dependency ratio officially standing at 91.3%, the majority of them are likely to vote on economic concerns rather than ethnic or party considerations. Given Lungu’s dismal record on the economy, such a scenario favours Hichilema.

One of the important features of the 2015 poll was that voter turnout, on average, was higher in UPND than PF strongholds. Another was that Hichilema, despite accusations of regional inclination, generally fared better in the PF constituencies than Lungu did in UPND bases. If both trends are repeated in 2016, Lungu, who will not have the benefit of a Sata sympathy vote at the next polls, may be in serious trouble.

These variables suggest that the next election is Hichilema’s to lose. However, given the political ineptitude of the UPND campaign strategy which, in an effort to improve the party’s performance in PF’s Bemba-speaking strongholds, prioritises the recruitment of tokenist ‘ethnic big men and women’ rather than grassroots mobilisation and the establishment of local structures, he might just manage it.

Constitutional reform: an incentive for electoral alliances?

Historically, opposition electoral alliances in Zambia have been fraught with challenges owing mainly to the unwillingness of competing political figures to forego individual presidential ambitions and support their colleagues. In the 2015 presidential by-election, for instance, the aggregate vote for opposition parties exceeded the ruling PF’s.

Had the main opposition parties developed a more positive political programme than a mere dislike of the PF and forged an electoral alliance similar to the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), the broad coalition that defeated founding President Kenneth Kaunda and his nationalist United National Independence Party in 1991, Lungu would have lost.

One factor that partly explains the failure of past opposition electoral alliances has been the lack of constitutional backing for collaboration, prompting mistrust among potential partners that the winning candidate may not honour pre-election deals. However, this situation will change ahead of the 2016 polls.

In early December, the PF took to Parliament the Constitution of Zambia Bill, which contains popular clauses such as the requirement that a winning presidential candidate should secure a minimum of “50 per cent + 1” and that the Vice-President should be elected alongside the President. The proposed legislation was passed and when it becomes law, it could change the political landscape quite radically.

As neither Lungu nor Hichilema enjoy outright national support, it is likely that party coalitions in the first or second round of the presidential elections will be needed to determine a winner.

In such a scenario, if the opposition were to unite behind Hichilema’s candidature, Lungu’s defeat would be a foregone conclusion. But this eventuality is far from certain, owing mainly to serious divisions within the rapidly disintegrating MMD, whose 20-year stay in power was terminated by Sata’s PF in 2011.

Going into the 2015 poll, the former ruling party split into three factions. One group backed party president Nevers Mumba, while another, comprising several MPs including the relatively influential Felix Mutati, whom Mumba had defeated for the MMD leadership, endorsed Hichilema. The third faction, led by former Republican and MMD president Rupiah Banda who made a dramatic return to active politics after Sata’s death, supported Lungu.

Banda, who hails from the same language group and province as Lungu, endorsed the PF candidate after the Supreme Court thwarted his attempt to oust Mumba from the leadership of the MMD and install himself as the party’s presidential nominee.

In protest against the court ruling, he abandoned the MMD and urged his supporters to vote for the very ruling party candidate whom he had earlier sought to challenge. The net result of this factionalism was the fragmentation of the MMD vote, which went in three directions, with Mumba commanding almost nothing. In comparison to the 35.6% support that Banda received in the 2011 presidential election, Mumba managed to secure only 0.8% four years later.

What this context underlines is the illusory nature of the support that both Hichilema and Lungu received in the 2015 presidential election, since it may well have been dependent on what would normally have been MMD votes as well as on traditional UPND and PF votes. Now that the Constitution may force political parties to forge electoral alliances in order to succeed, the MMD vote is likely to be the lurking factor at the next polls.

If Lungu signs the proposed Constitution into law, Hichilema’s chances may therefore be affected by whether he will be facing an MMD-PF coalition (either formally or in some sort of loose alliance). If the vote on the Constitutional Bill, which saw PF and MMD MPs voting together, is anything to go by, the answer may be in the affirmative.

In fact, there is already growing talk that MMD’s Mutati may support Lungu at the next polls, either in his own right or, if his reported bid to oust Mumba from the party leadership succeeds, with the organisational backing of the party.

If Mutati, who is said to have support from the Copperbelt and Bemba-speaking regions, is chosen as Lungu’s running mate or, as MMD leader, enters into an alliance with PF, he may hurt the electoral prospects of Hichilema, who is seen by some outside his party bases as leading an anti-Bemba political movement. (The Bemba-speaking language group is the largest in Zambia, accounting for 41% of the nation’s population according to the 2010 census.)

How the MMD’s internal politics unfold over the next few months will thus have an important and perhaps decisive bearing on the election. If Hichilema manages to persuade all influential opposition figures, including Mutati, to support him, political turnover may be achieved.

The role of a critical free press

One of the main platforms of opposition voices and dissent since the reintroduction of multiparty politics in the early 1990s has been The Post, a newspaper that made its name exposing government excesses and corrupt deals, promoting a free press, and fostering transparency and accountability.

Over the last few months, the daily publication has played an important role in covering the unfolding social unrest on the Copperbelt. This has effectively highlighted the underperformance of Lungu and raised public consciousness of people’s struggles and their desire for political change. With its national presence and capacity to affect public opinion, The Post’s critical portrayal of Lungu has unleashed a noticeable backlash against him and earned it the ire of the governing authorities.

For instance, in September, Lungu made ill-advised comments that amounted to a death threat to the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Fred M’membe, a few days before unknown assailants fired a bullet from an AK-47 into the publication’s newsroom.

The following month, the government attempted to shut down the critical tabloid on tax-related claims, but the High Court halted the move.

More recently, on 10 December, a combined team of armed state police, intelligence officers and revenue collectors raided The Post’s head office over alleged tax evasion and went away with company computers and documents. Again, the High Court declared the move illegal and ordered the revenue authority to return the seized items.

Critics point to these developments as evidence of Lungu’s growing desperation and fears that The Post may damage his re-election chances. Conclusions that the ruling authorities are simply out to either paralyse the operations of the newspaper or close it altogether are hard to dismiss for two main reasons.

First, several PF-aligned publications and other companies that owe the revenue authority huge debts in tax revenue have not been treated in a similar way. Second, senior government officials, including Lungu and the Minister of Information, have previously threatened to shut down the tabloid for its critical positions against the establishment, reinforcing perceptions that the revenue authority’s actions against it are politically motivated.

If the government succeeds in closing the only established and credible platform for opposition parties, it would strike a serious blow to their electoral chances and underline Lungu’s increasing authoritarianism and intolerance of dissent. Conversely, the prospects for an opposition victory are high if The Post remains in operation, as the disenchantment arising from an informed public may work against the governing party.

A two-horse race

Given the absence of credible opinion polls and the considerable time remaining before the elections, any prediction concerning the 2016 polls should be regarded as tentative and treated with caution.

But what is almost certain for now is that unless other opposition parties such as Edith Nawakwi’s Forum for Democracy and Development or Wynter Kabimba’s Rainbow gain momentum and emerge as viable alternatives, the 2016 presidential elections will be a race between Lungu and Hichilema – a tragic choice between the economically-incompetent PF and the increasingly populist UPND, whose leader spent the January campaign promising free education, free fertiliser and almost every budget-busting proposal he could think of.

By Sishuwa Sishuwa

Sishuwa Sishuwa is a Zambian scholar and political analyst based at the University of Oxford.

Source:African Arguments


  1. You even ask? Hakaivotela Heka’s time has finally come unless you decide to bury your head in the sand and ignore reality.

    • Lusaka Times, this article was published on African Arguments last December. Your website should have acknowledged the original source on which the article first appeared and provide a link to that. That is the professional and honesty approach.

    • Party success in such a polarizing political order that is largely anchored on unZambian divisive antics can be practically hard if not nationalistic in character. Those that win have to be nationalistic and of understanding that establishing a partnership with the people to build unity with balanced acts and values for all Zambians is the heartbeat of winning a crowded arena. Why, because the distinctly Zambian spirit for unite and optimism is confoundingly hard to shake if a party is born and thrives on narrow values of unZambianness. We guard our hearts against counterfeits disconnected from the fact that our success as a country depends on commitment to inclusion and equity. As such establishing a partnership with the people to build unity and prosperity for all is key leadership.

    • My question to the writer is which party has ever brought so much development all over the country as we are witnessing today? Tell me. The Kwacha has depreciated yet you are driving in very nice roads. Apart from RB which president has presided over Zambia without massive loss of employment and yet people voted for him. During Mwanawasa thousands of miners lost jobs and mines closed. During Chiluba alot of mines closed down and alot of miners laid off with the help of HH but people kept on voting for him.

    • Most new voters are disenchanted citizens hit hard by the poor leadership of the PF.Outgoing President Lungu ought to plan his EXIT Strategy now.

  2. Nice article, although the main factor here is as follows:
    (1) Will copper belt support PF like the way they supported it in 2015 considering the following issues below:
    (I) Job losses at hand
    (ii) High cost of living
    (iii) lack of certainty of electricity tariffs

    (2) Can Lusaka continue supporting PF with issues below:
    (1) Too much load shedding
    (ii) Worthless kwacha

    The survival of PF is based on CB/LSK turning in huge numbers the day of voting and vote massively for Pf, any small shift like 5% then it is game over.

    • I too thought the article was excellent, and comes to pass what I have always put across;
      ‘What Hichilema needs to secure the presidency is to win his main constituencies with huge margins and closely trail Lungu in PF strongholds’

      Indeed, all what HH needs is not to beat Lungu in CB and LSK, but just narrowing the gap, lets say if the ratios in these two provinces could be something like; 5:4:1 ECL, HH and others respectively, Lungu will be history!!

      My word to HH/UPND is to zero in and invest heavily on the CB and ECL campaigns and encourage large turnouts in his strongholds. Whatever the outcome from Luapula, Muchinga and Northern will be compensated for by the huge turnout vote from the UPND stronghoods. The battle ground lies in CB and LSK, so bwana President…

    • lets zero in these two and the time to start is now, do not leave too late, if it means doing it underground (in the face of PF persecutions) lets go for it!!

  3. I hate it when people with a COLONIAL mentality keep saying ‘from his home area.’ Please let us move away from this western mentality. As an educated man, why are you pandering to the white man’s classification and characterisation of Zambia’s politics? Lungu is married to a Lozi, grew up on the Copperbelt Province, how can he be an Easterner? No one calls Hawaii, Obama’s home state even if he was born there.

    • @ Saint,that is my thought also. This Zambian is writing from the UK but without a Zambian touch what so ever! His article is full of ethnicity just like the imperialist west always likes to explain Africa to the world. Lungu’s home area is not Eastern Province. He grew up on the Copperbelt. In fact those who hate him at home refer to him as some one from Chawama, a shanty compound in the capital city where he was MP before becoming president! This article has failed to explain that in Jan 2015, Lungu face internal PF problems and only campaigned for a month when his opponent had 2 months and that the Post was at one time a mouth piece of the PF-Government.

  4. HH can’t win.We are passing the constitution 2day n HH knows that.Who can vote for a party which is against bembas?UPND supporters are bitter and can kill jst to make HH ascend presidency.Always since 2006 HH has been declaring himself as a winner.His tribe has been voting for UPND since 2001.In UDA HH stood n he lost.in 2008 HH lost n lost.in 2011 HH stood n lost.In 2015 HH stood n lost.The reason is simple UPND supporters don’t learn anything.They think bembas block them from winning anelection.And for them it’s about all tribes should unite against the bembas.We don’t allow such politics in Zambia.The supporters of UPND are to blame.Ifwe 2016 ni lungu.Elo tulekolopa.We have started calling our pipo in northern,luapula,eastern and muchinga to vote like nega nega pipo.

    • Yes keep on ukukolopa in poverty and joblessness,

      We are winning this year despite PF attempt to use OP in the election

      Viva HH

    • Why do you always think that UPND is against Bembas when babemba are in UPND?Is because the majority of the oppsition leaders are from the northern part of Zambia and as such feel threatened from HH who is from Southern province?
      Lets own up,pf has messed up and the majority of Zambians are fed up.

  5. Counter question is, what landmark developments in the political space have taken place to alter voter alignment at national level? The challenge may be there, yet many variables underlying voter decision making could prove punditry wrong in Decision 2016.

  6. Uhmmmm, read with a pinch of salt. The intrusion of HH into the so called PF Bemba strongholds was based on the split of MMD and the support of the likes of Hon Mutati and at a time of the weakest period of PF. Those parameters are no longer for HH. What is on the ground are the economic challenges.
    The question remaining though is whether uPMD has convinced voters that it is a viable political alternative, and whether the party will categorically state that it is no longer averse to a non tonga president. It has failed to do so up to now, leaving a bad taste in many people’s mouths, and lingering suspicions as to the ethnic-political landscape of Zambian politicians should they vote for uPMD. This last para is the albatross around the neck of the uPMD and probably the only reason why…

  7. The underlining factor is there is no loser nor winner. It is either all Zambians win by improvement on the economy or lose due to bad economy. All we need a team and acceptance of that team.

  8. I think this is a fair and intelligent analysis and it will be wise if the concerned political leaders took heed so that they are not surprised of the outcome come election time. Sad thing though is that I think Zambia is still short of seasoned and reliable leaders.

  9. If God is dead,then people will be judges over men’s destiny.It doesn’t matter how many times HH fall,God knows the day and year meant for him.If God could choose a small tribe like israel to be his,amongst large groups like egypt and palestians.there is a reason.Bemba can claim to be the majority but wat wil make them vote for other tribes only God can.

  10. LT have made positive strides on news reporting.atleast your news is balanced unlike ZWD,ZR,TUMFWEKO etc.

  11. The opposition UPND will unseat Pf with a landslide. Pf and its outgoing Chagwa are alive to this fact. No rigging if pf thinks it is popular..

  12. Blablablablablabla!! You dont need to be a rocket scientist to know that PF is a most popular party in Zambia!!! Despite few disgruntled characters on line who may portray that PF is a bad party, what is on the ground is very different!! I personally have traversed across the length and breadth of the country and to say that under 5 can win a national election is the biggest joke ever!!
    Some one should come and cut off my precious manhood if our infamous under 5 wins the forthcoming elections!! Come August this year, upnd will be history!!!!

  13. The Opposition for obvious reason can’t unseat PF because of the brutality conduct of Pf police which has forced opposition to hold meetings in the bush.

  14. upnd reeks of tribalism and that alone has been their undoing! Their perceived hatred of Bembas would not do them any good- garnishing their party with a few rejected politicians is neither here nor there1 2016 ECL!

    • Am a northerner but I strongly believe the party trying to ride high based on tribal rhetorics is PF. PF is the most tribal party Zambia has ever had, and people lets call a spade, a spade, their Guru, the late Sata (mhrp) was the most tribal president Zambia has ever had….just look at the momentary of the capital projects in Muchinga and Northern during his reign, as compared to NW and Western, that will give you an idea. Even people like Kambwili, Chama, Chanda, Mumbi, etc, can’t stop talking about it because they have deeply been initiated into it by the founder zeguru! And what is sad about it is that the man (HH) they are ever accusing never utters any tribal remarks!

  15. I would love to support HH but there are issues that HH has not full convinced of.

    1) The tag of Free Mason still lingers around his neck and he has not done enough to dispel that rumour.
    2) His tribal tag seems to be growing everyday dispite elections approaching.
    3) HH as a Christian that he puports to be doesn’t come out very strong. Yesterday on the News I heard him at the prayer rally their party had where he said there is only one PERSON who has power and that is GOD. This theology didn’t rhyme well for a person believed to be a church elder.
    4) HH needs to come out clear where he stands regarding issues of Homosexuality vs donor aid and Zambia as a Christian nation.
    Once these are successfully addressed HH will have my vote.

  16. I remember Sishuwa pre2011 elections when he carried the Sata mantra on his shoulders. He has a way with words that make what he’s talking about come out so intelligent. A true scholar indeed. I also like the fact that he has avoided the T-word. I hate it. We should all stop using this colonial word of hate.

  17. For the article above it is very academic and does not reflect the facts on the ground. This is typical of most scholars, too quick to publish their articles without doing enough research. Your article is skewed,

    1)you have not commented on the development that there is so far and the impact that it is likely to have on voters.

    2)You have not considered the fact that in the last presidential elections PF was at it’s weakest point considering the internal succession wrangles, this time it has properly regrouped and ready for a proper fight (electionwise).

    3) Most o the majority voters especially in the rural area’s have no issues in some cases don’t even understand the statistics you have presented above.

    4) How about the UPND MPs that have crossed the floor (moved to…

  18. For the article above it is very academic and does not reflect the facts on the ground. This is typical of most scholars, too quick to publish their articles without doing enough research. Your article is skewed,
    1)you have not commented on the development that there is so far and the impact that it is likely to have on voters.
    2)You have not considered the fact that in the last presidential elections PF was at it’s weakest point considering the internal succession wrangles, this time it has properly regrouped and ready for a proper fight (electionwise).
    3) Most o the majority voters especially in the rural area’s have no issues in some cases don’t even understand the statistics you have presented above.
    4) How about the UPND MPs that have crossed the floor (moved to PF)?…

  19. Ati “Economically Incompetent PF” and yet you are called a professor, my foot! Anyway I don’t blame you just by looking at the name.

  20. Like alluded to earlier you can not make a partisan analysis the head line was to read How UPND CAN WIN 2016 ELECTION AGAINST PF IS NOT A BALANCED ANALYSIS.
    Just one example and Question; which party has been gaining in the strong hold despite economic challenges PF is facing.
    Can you do a grade six work can you remember.

    Answer; PF has won elections in the strong hold of UPND and out of 10 bye Elections and UPND has only retained 1 seat which was also theirs;during this period there were no massive campaign by aspiring candidates;with the campaign now coming I don’t know how many votes and if HH will survive;

    1. During Anglo America I am talking about ZCCM there were + and – 56,000 Miners now the most affected ones today are not more than 5,000 if you want you can double that number to 10,000 can these votes change the previous statistics.As at now there are more self employed people on the Copperbelt than before who do not depend on the Mines and are laying to ambush UPND because they can offer anything…

    • Some articles, all of day dream. Mutati doesn’t command the Copperbelt and Northern vote. Actually, many people are upset with him together with GBM for there behaviour in the 2015 election. PF should not even make that mistake of making him a running mate. He failed to deliver for UPND. He might even lose his Lute seat. Do your research before writing anything.

  22. An absolutely interesting article Sishuwa, thanks for the time and effort invested. On the ground, cost of living has never been at this level; rationing of water supply; load shedding; and most painfully, job losses on the Copperbelt, among other calamities….this is with a peripheral of new roads, many finished and semi-finished structures. The colossal debt looms quite heavily. My ‘small’ father in Mfuwe says, we shall ‘eat’ what we are given during campaigns but we shall vote with our heads (he once was a die-hard MMD stalwart now he is wondering….). Am applying for leave from 9th to 16th August 2016. May the vote be free and fair.

  23. Very unbalanced analysis,
    You only talk of negatives on part of pf and LUNGU
    You only talk of positives on part of HH

  24. Sishuwa, we read your article and thanks for your sober but brutally honest criticism. We are already adjusting to take your free advise.

  25. This advancement of tribal “supremacy’’ and total disregard for other tribes makes the rest of us resentful of UPND and its core tribalist leader HH. Despite the “good intention and management CV” by HH, we fear they may create what I would term a Tongacracy Government. A government of the Tonga’s by the Tonga’s for the Tonga’s.

  26. PF You failed to fill the Heros stadium to capacity during the constitution signing ceremony which shows serious resentements people have developed towards your rotten pf and you are still kubwatabwata any the count down has began,come august kuyabebele.

  27. The simple fact is; Round 1 of voting will be qualitative..about issues. Round 2 after elimination of Nevers, Nawakwi and co, MMD will support PF and this vote will be a emotional one based on tribal line.

    Hence PF will enjoy the 50 plus 1 clause.

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