Vice-President Inonge Wina greets former president Rupiah Banda during the National Day of player, Fasting, repentance and Reconciliation at woodlands Forest Re reserve area on Tuesday, October 18,2016 -Pictures by THOMAS NSAMA
Vice-President Inonge Wina greets former president Rupiah Banda during the National Day of player, Fasting, repentance and Reconciliation at woodlands Forest Re reserve area on Tuesday, October 18,2016 -Pictures by THOMAS NSAMA

Despite dominating Zambian politics for 20 years, the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy was all but wiped out in last year’s legislative elections. But it’s former leaders were not.

In Zambia’s hotly contested elections in August 2016, one might be forgiven for thinking there were only two political parties vying for power.

After all, the campaign was dominated by the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), led by President Edgar Lungu, and the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) under Hakainde Hichilema. Together, the two parties secured 98% of the presidential votes and 138 of the 156 seats in the National Assembly, with the PF and Lungu narrowly coming out on top.

However, at the ballot box, voters were also presented with a handful of other candidates and a dozen other political parties – among them, the once insuperable Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD).

From 1991 until 2011, the MMD completely dominated Zambian politics. Under Frederick Chiluba from 1991 to 2001, the country essentially operated as a one-party state. And after he stepped down, the MMD won three more elections under two further presidents, Levy Mwanawasa and Rupiah Banda.

In 2011, the MMD’s two-decade rule finally came to an end, but it remained the country’s main opposition. At this point, one might have expected the former ruling party to regroup and challenge strongly in 2016. But instead, it scraped just 2.7% of the vote and lost over 50 seats in the National Assembly. It didn’t even put forward a presidential candidate.

A challenger emerges

The story of MMD’s decline starts in 2001 when President Chiluba’s two terms in office came to an end. In the fraught process to choose a successor that followed, Mwanawasa emerged as the new presidential candidate. But this led the frustrated Michael Sata, a long-standing MMD minister and national organising secretary, to storm out of the party and set up the rival PF.

Although the new party struggled in 2001, it grew as the charismatic Sata attracted supporters with his pro-poor populist rhetoric. More MMD members – particularly its northern Bemba-speaking bloc – defected to the PF, and in 2006 elections, the party came second, becoming the main opposition.

In 2011, the PF did one better. Thanks to a strong showing in urban areas and Bemba-speaking provinces in northern Zambia, Sata was elected president. The PF became the biggest party in the 158-member parliament, though with just 60 seats, it only had five more than the MMD and was short of a majority.

The PF therefore embarked on a strategy to extend its advantage. Firstly, it lured opposition politicians to defect with the promise of automatic membership and deputy ministerial positions. Secondly, it petitioned the courts to annul and re-run certain 2011 legislative elections, alleging corruption.

These tactics were successful. By the end of 2015, Zambia had held a plentiful 35 by-elections, 26 of which were triggered by the nullification of results or defections. In these re-runs, the PF won 23 more seats, giving the ruling party a clear majority in parliament and slashing the MMD’s numbers to below 40.

A new alliance

The opposition MMD was a waning force, but perhaps ironically, it was the sudden death of President Sata in October 2014 that set the stage for its broader demise. Under Zambia’s then constitution, the country was required to hold a presidential by-election within 90 days, and this plunged both the PF and MMD into bitter internal contests over who should be their party’s nominee.

In the ruling PF, Edgar Lungu secured the candidacy at the expense of a rival faction that included then Acting President Guy Scott. In the MMD, the contest hinged on a legal battle that eventually saw Nevers Mumba emerge as the presidential candidate over former president Rupiah Banda.

In the ensuing acrimonious, competitive, and fluid political environment, an unlikely alliance was forged.

On one side, PF candidate Lungu had been denied access to state resources by Acting President Scott, who insisted they should not be used for partisan campaigns, and was looking weak in certain regions. On the other, the defeated Banda was reportedly now looking to ally himself with a candidate who, if successful, would drop corruption charges, initiated under Sata, that related to his time as president.

In each other, the two found what they were looking for. Lungu reportedly made promises to Banda. And Banda drew on his popularity in the Eastern Province, where the PF was particularly weak, and procured considerable funds for the campaign.

The MMD was torn three ways. Some switched to campaigning for the PF like Banda. Others supported the increasingly popular UPND. And only a small contingent remained loyal to Mumba. In the end, the MMD came fourth with a dismal 0.87%. Lungu won with 48.3%, narrowly defeating the UPND’s Hichilema on 46.7%.

The real power

With the PF’s narrow victory in 2015 and again in August 2016, the partnership between Lungu and the ever more influential Banda was cemented. Since then, charges against Banda have been dropped and several more MMD members have been incorporated into the ruling party.

Dora Siliya, a Banda ally from the Eastern Province, defected and was given a ministerial position in 2015 despite still facing criminal charges. Lucky Mulusa, a well-known former MMD politician, became an aide to Lungu. And Felix Mutati was appointed Finance Minister this September.

In all, six key ministers in Lungu’s current cabinet are formerly of the MMD. The party itself has been hollowed out, but with President Lungu so reliant on Banda for his electoral victories, many of its former stalwarts have found themselves in powerful positions.

One effect of absorbing these figures into his government is that Lungu has reduced his dependence on the so-called Bemba faction of his party. Many of these longer-standing PF members – sometimes described as the “true green” in reference to the party colour – are angry at Banda’s new influence and at being side-lined.

These frustrations led two high-profile Bemba members – Miles Sampa and Mulenga Sata –to campaign against the PF in the recent elections. Meanwhile, in November 2016, Lungu courted controversy when he dismissed Chishimba Kambwili, another prominent PF member, from his position as Information Minister.

In Zambia’s political culture, parties tend not to be divided along ideology. Membership is fluid and based on self-interest. This has enabled MMD elites to cross over to the ruling party without losing their popular support, and means that while the party may have all but disappeared, many of its former leaders – most notably Banda – remain close to power.

We will have to wait and see how these alliances and party reconfigurations continue to shift through Lungu’s first full term, especially as the frustrated “true green” faction and former PF elites consider their next move.

Zenobia Ismail is a PhD candidate in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Previously she was a manager for the Afrobarometer research network based at Idasa, South Africa.

Source:African arguments

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19 COMMENTS

    • Are all men from eastern province ugly? Rupiah Banda is fat and ugly. Lungu is ugly with a beer belly, chiken legs and breath that stinks of alcohol.

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    • ‘Lungu reportedly made promises to Banda.’
      When you write anacademic paper you should use facts and support your pointswith evidenceand not speculation. Charges aainst Banda were not dropped, the Director of PublicProsecution did not enter a nolle prosequi, which iswhat ‘dropping’ carges is. Banda’s case was dismissed by a court of law.

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  1. She tried to raise some points, but too humble.
    I will not comment its so painful that Zambia lost opportunity of UPND.

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  2. Ok truth be said MMD is a virus that both PF and UPND have been infected by.
    United Dunderheads don’t pretend! You have Lupando Mwape a former MMD Veep and once acting President as an active member, at least Nyama Soya is just a walking stick in PF’s case! Also United Dunderheads have Nevers the current MMD president as their walking stick. I completely detist having any of these MMD animals in politics- they brought this culture of lavish expenditure and not hearing the crys of the people. If MMD was completely out of the picture a brighter day would be seen-this is why we need Dora and Mutati out of govt! The two of them are up to no good!

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  3. Pf never won the elections until the petition is heard. Any analysis with the conclusion that Edgar Lungu win the elections lacks credibility based on the fact that he, Edgar has done nothing constitutional. He had solid grounds to establish his legitimacy and he did not. Therefore, Lungu’s presidency is fraud and he should not misuse words like Zambians gave him the mandate because this fact has not been established yet. And for those that argue that HH and UPNDare wasting their time because they will never rule Zambia should think again. The fight is about Zambia as a country and the constitution. We have a constitution and if Lungu sets the precedent of not following the contistution then Zambia has no future. So let them fight and let us fight for our rights before these people in…

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  4. Cont: …in government sell our souls to the highest bidder. Let’s have a critical look at Zambia today. All operational systems are flawed. The notion of corruption is just what it is. ‘Be seen talking about corruption and Zambians will be okay about and you don’t need to do anything about, they are Zambians, peaceful people and they will forget about it.’ That’s what Pf thinks and to a larger extent they are spot on!! Edgar Lungu and his team are the worst people that ever happened to Zambia. The funny part out of this is the fact that Lungu, knows too well that he is not fit to be president, let alone a Director of a company. All senior Pf officials are compromised. Yet as a people we choose to pick up the bible and pray. I bet God laughs at us sometimes!!

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    • I could hug you ant time….. thats what hunger and poverty does to a nation. Its blocks the mind to think

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  5. That is why I am beginning to love lungu.
    He has got the bemba theives licking his and Dora Siliyas feet for a chance to loot and steal reasources.
    The balance of power has firmly shifted to the easterners. Don’t be fooled, the bemba theives are not happy at not being in control of zambias reasources but they know without the easterners the tongas will come.

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  6. Good analysis, thanks LT for republishing it. Not everyone is shouting like a fake pastor about how Lungu is “chosen by God”. Or have they stopped saying that one by now?

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  7. This article was on Yahoo news! LT should not just acknowledge the author BUT THEY SHOULD ALSO SHOW THE SOURCE! SO WHAT IF MMD IS IN CONTROL AFTER DISAPPEARING? The author DID NOT DWELL ON THE FACT THAT WHICHEVER WAY THE ELECTION RESULTS WERE GOING TO GO, EVEN IF UPND WON,MMD WAS GOING TO BE THERE!! Where would HH taken the MUSOKOTWANE

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  8. Every political party in Zambia since independence has parasitised other parties. Zambia African Congress which became UNIP was formed from African National Congress. UNIP swallowed ANC and NP. MMD swallowed UNIP. PF swallowed MMD andsome day in future something else will swallow PF. Zambian politicians recycle.

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  9. Your analysis does not explain how Lungu, an easterner was a parasite in what you insunuate was a typically Satas Bemba founded and saturated PF. Ssta, according to you was disillussioned by the assention of Mwanawasa and so founded the PF. But yet at the of his term in MMD, Banda was still able to manipulate PFs power structure through his surrogates? Hwell organised and entrenched was the PF for Banda to continue to puppeteer? What is the failing of HH he cant duplicate Banda? To me the Politicians groomed inMMD, Dora, Mutati are pure savvy, seasoned. Call them what you will, doesnt change facts!

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  10. Certain historians have studied political alliances and mergers in the Zambian context. They suggest that in the short to medium term, the political blocks have achieved their political objectives, namely political change. The political blocks are a blend of ideological and regional calculations. The fact that the UNIP alliance (i.e., Independence) unseated FP can not be disputed. Also, the fact that the MMD alliance (i.e., Movement) unseated UNIP can not be disputed. Similarly, the fact that PF alliance (i.e., Front) unseated MMD can not be disputed. What is questionable is the suggestion that MMD was holding political power through PF in disguise. This suggestion is distorting the fact that ruling parties in Zambia are political groupings with ideological leanings to the center and…

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