Zambia’s opposition knows impeachment will fail. So what’s its game?


By Sishuwa Sishuwa

On 23 March, Zambia’s main opposition party filed a motion seeking the impeachment of President Edgar Lungu. The action was led by the United Party for National Development (UPND) party and backed by a third of MPs.

The ruling Patriotic Front (PF) immediately derided the move. Presidential spokesperson Amos Chanda dismissed it as being destined for failure, noting that the opposition would never get the two-thirds majority in Parliament needed for it to succeed.

In the National Assembly, Deputy Speaker Catherine Namugala recognised that the UPND had complied with the formal requirements for proceedings thus far. But she declined to table the motion before Parliament adjourned on 29 March, saying that the “Constitution does not give a timeframe within which an impeachment motion must be tabled”. The opposition accused her of working with the PF to obstruct their attempt to unseat Lungu.

What this means is that the motion is likely to be tabled in the next siting of Parliament scheduled for June.

The opposition’s impeachment argument

The call to impeach Lungu, who has been in power since 2015, rests on two grounds.

Firstly, the UPND alleges that the president has violated the Constitution and other laws on several occasions. In particular, they point to Lungu’s alleged threats to Constitutional Court judges in November 2017 when he warned there would be chaos if they ruled against his bid to stand for another term in 2021. The opposition also contends that Lungu’s failure to concede power when a petition was filed against his election in August 2016 violated Article 104 (3) of Zambia’s Constitution.

The UPND’s second grounds for seeking to impeach Lungu is that he is allegedly responsible for numerous cases of gross misconduct. The opposition highlights his directive to the state-owned Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines-Investment Holdings to discontinue a legal suit against First Quantum Minerals Limited that sought to recover a huge debt from the Canadian multinational. They also cite Lungu’s reported newfound wealth amassed while in office, his failure to rein in his aides’ suspected “corrupt activities”, and Zambia’s swelling public debt.

Many in Zambia see merit in the opposition’s claims, and the UPND has complied with the law in filing its motion. But the next battle will be to persuade two-thirds of MPs to support it. That will almost certainly be a bridge too far.

Zambia’s National Assembly has 166 lawmakers. 89 (54%) belong to the ruling PF. 63 (38%) belong to opposition parties, of which 58 (35%) are with the UPND. The remaining 14 (8%) are independents. To get a two-thirds majority, the motion would need at least 111 MPs to vote in favour.

Assuming all UPND parliamentarians support the motion, it would begin with 57 votes (one seat is currently vacant after Keith Mukata was convicted of murder). It would therefore need 54 more, but getting these looks like a very tall order.

To begin with, many independents as well as members of the smaller opposition parties MMD and FDD have tended to vote with the ruling party. Many independents are in fact former PF members who failed to win their party primaries. That suggests that it will take big incentives to persuade them to switch sides.

However, even if the UPND manages to convince all of these MPs to back impeachment, it will still need at least 35 parliamentarians from the ruling party to rebel too. There may be up to around five renegades in the PF that would consider this, but not more. Revulsion against Lungu is not as rife inside the party as it is outside it. Moreover, MPs know that impeaching Lungu would mean that Vice-President Inonge Wina, an extremely unpopular figure in the PF, would succeed him.

There have been some claims recently that the UPND has bought off several PF MPs to support the impeachment motion, but these rumours are unconvincing. Despite some greater constraints imposed on the president by the new constitution, Lungu is still generally able to meet the patronage expectations of his supporters. The out-of-power opposition is unable to match or beat these on any significant scale.

Behind the impeachment strategy

Taking all this into account, it is clear that there will be no impeachment. Even the UPND’s leader Hakainde Hichilema cannot seriously believe they will remove the president. So why have they gone to the trouble of filing the motion?

Firstly, the impeachment process can be seen as part of a wider strategy aimed at delegitimising Lungu in the eyes of the public and international community. Since the disputed 2016 election, the UPND has consistently sought to question and undermine Lungu’s legitimacy. Initially, its strategy was limited to the use of legal challenges built around the election petition that was dismissed on a technicality by the Constitutional Court in September 2016.

The PF had hoped that as the elections receded into the past, the question of Lungu’s legitimacy would fade away. The latest move by the UPND suggests otherwise. If anything, it indicates that the opposition is diversifying its strategy. The impeachment motion will fail, but in the process, it will highlight Lungu’s allegedly unconstitutional behaviour, continue to raise questions over his government’s legitimacy, sap the energy of the PF, and aggravate divisions in the ruling party.

In this latest strategy, the UPND may have been inspired by South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a small opposition party that has been a constant thorn in the side of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). Over the course of the last two years, the EFF brought repeated no-confidence motions in former President Jacob Zuma. These inevitably failed in terms of votes, but kept questions around Zuma’s fitness to hold office in the public eye and contributed to his ultimate demise. The UPND may follow the EFF’s template in tabling further impeachment motions when the current one fails.

This may also deepen rifts in the PF. In fact, the existing impeachment process may already be bearing fruit on this front. The orchestrated delay in tabling the motion in Parliament suggests the PF may no longer be so sure of its MPs’ loyalty to Lungu. Particularly aware that the vote may be done through secret ballot, the party seems to want to postpone the process until it can be more confident of its outcome. There are even emerging reports that the PF may seek to find a way of preventing the motion from being tabled in Parliament altogether.

As well as challenging Lungu’s legitimacy, the UPND’s impeachment strategy also allows it to consistently raise questions around his actions in office. The opposition can use proceedings to hammer away at the president’s wealth and remind the public of corruption allegations against him and his inner circle, while positioning the UPND as the party of good governance. The government’s attempts to discredit the impeachment motion on the grounds that it will never pass rather than on its merits only serve to reinforce the perception that the charges against Lungu are in fact credible.

While it knows it will lose the impeachment battle, the UPND’s broader goal is to loudly call into question Lungu’s legitimacy as well as the entire agenda of the government. This newly-developed strategy has already put the PF on the defensive and into a state of panic.

Sishuwa Sishuwa is a Zambian historian and political commentator.


    • Our opposition MPs are clearly taking a leaf from SA, but in doing so they seem to forget ours is a struggling economy with 60 percent of Zambians struggling to make ends meet. SA’s economy is much stronger and their opposition can to a certain extent afford to take time out and focus on such efforts, remember what took Zuma out was not just the opposition but his own Party that voted to get him out. Now back to Zambia’s case- we have been denied an objective opposition for too long mainly for selfish reasons by the same opposition and this is affecting development- this must end. How much funds will be spent on this exercise that will go nowhere? That money could educate how many children? This is the type of thinking our leaders lack both ruling and opposition.

    • When this motion was presented PF and its cadres did not understand the impact, their main focus was on whether ECL will be impeached on, they were just looking at the number of opposition MPs. It’s until lately, they started understanding this. Repeatedly, we have told you on this forum, that it’s not about whether the motion will be successful or not, it was rather about the stain that this leaves on the government and PF.
      Therefore, PF must thank you, Sishuwa Sishuwa, for laying it down in the simplest form that even the dum.b.est cadre should get this. There have been calls from members of this forum for UPND to fight PF in parley than issuing statements in the media, it seems UPND listened and this is one of the results. And I think this is healthy for Zambian democracy.

  1. PF knows the impeachment process will succeed. Why not allow it if they are sure it will fail. Former S.A. President Jacob Zuma survived 8 motions of no confidence yet you PF are scared of one motion. Let’s allow the Parliamentarians to debate and vote on this in the house. Media is not the platform for it. This motion is a litmus test and shud be allowed otherwise speaker shud b just QUIT!

  2. And to educate Mr Sishuwa, it’s not the EFF which brought motions of no confidence on Zuma. It’s the DA. The EFF only brought one motion/impeachment which was not even debated because Zuma resigned. You are writing a very big article with alot of ignorance. Your silence was better than expressing such ignorance on Southern African region politics

    • So, Mr Brown Envelope, that was the best contribution your whole mind found necessary to make out of “the big article” ’s entire contents? You created the time, told your mind that today, after reading this “big article”, this will be my biggest contribution to the several issues that it raises? Staggering.

  3. Excellent analysis Sishuwa, Indeed this strategy is a well orchestrated and rightly so and the PF with their usual lackadaisical approach to serious issues will be their downfall. Everyone knows even stanch UPND supporters that removing Lungu from power will be an uphill battle. Suffice to say that the motive is not to remove him from power but create an amperage of charges that will bring into question his suitability, credibility and future prosecution. Precisely what has happened to Zuma who thought he was all too powerful and neglected the EFF simply as a menace of no clout and could do nothing. Alas what is the status now? Court, court ,court.

  4. Let the media also focus on UPND rigging of 2016 elections in Southern, Western and Northwestern Provinces through Cambridge Analytica. We cannot dismiss this fact because the results were ridiculous

  5. Put the motion on the table and see for yourself if the koswe won’t be Impeached. Why are u scared ????being a historian it doesn’t matter or mean that you are a member of parliament who feel betrayed by their voters. Lungu has failed the nation. And he is down falling. We know pipo like shushwa are just booty lickers who are being paid to demolirise the Mps who has got all the rights to debate on this issue. Don’t be fooled by lungu and the brown envelopes and pipo like shushwa. They are fools

  6. The problem with our political analysts and intelligentsia is they are biased and that compromises their ability to comprehend fundamental national matters. Bo Sishuwa, the EFFs strategy was based on tangible evidence that had passed in the courts hence their success. Our impotent and flaccid upnd are basing theirs on social media falsehoods which cannot even stand in a village kangaroo court. Remember, it is upnd that is propagating and sponsoring these falsehoods. Look at Kambwili, he hit the scene with so much buzz but it all fell flat as he failed to produce one single tangible shred of evidence and now the blowback has whacked him dead centre in his face as he faces a real fraud and corruption case in court that will have him convicted. So, Bo Sishuwa, you should be “shuwa” enough…

    • ….before you publish these 1.d.i.ot.tic opinions that convince the hate filled tribalistic bantustan dwellers and supporters rather than the wider populace of Zambia. Frankly speaking, upnd has no workable strategy which threatens PF, that is why they have been losing elections since 2001. If another stronger party pops up that genuinely challenges the PF, they would still beat upnd and their visionless leader hh who should have accepted Levy’s or Sata’s invitation as he would be president today!!!

  7. In all fairness this is not an exercise in futile. Lungu needs to be impeached. Period. The guy is corrupt, a thief, extravagant, brainless, leads a bunch of pin brains like Davis Mwila, Lusambo, Chama, Mwape and several others who are basically a worst of the nation’s time. He has failed and he must be impeached based on that. Lula, Korean lady are headed to jail. Where do you think Lungu must go? It must be jail. I won’t even lose a night over that.

    • Impeaching a president in the court of public opinion is childish. You can’t even prove one case in court and you want to table an impeachment motion based on what??? Reports from watchdog??? There was overwhelming evidence for Lula to be imprisoned, what do you have??? The late Michael Sata had the right word for you, UNDER 5!!!!

  8. Deputy Speaker Catherine Namugala, please hear the PF cadres who want to know based on what the impeachment motion is being raised, please table this case before the next seating so the Zambian people are informed of the reasons.
    It seems PF cadres are dying for facts, hence, its only fair to get the hearing and debate tabled as soon as possible.

  9. Actually the UPND and other opposition MPs have some good grounds for impeaching ECL. One the first count of the Speaker not taking over when the petition was filed,General Miyandas case which was dismissed by the Concourt actually helps the UPND.
    In an article written by General Miyanda in the Lusakatimes on September 3 ,2017,he stated “For instance the ConCourt ruled in favour of the Speaker taking over the reins of power; I had strongly canvassed against the Speaker taking over, even briefly for sixty days. I based my argument on the Principle of the Separation of Powers (I still do) and our independence history which has recorded that there was a state of emergency in Zambia continuously for nearly 30 years from 1964 to 1991 until the advent of the MMD regime! It was the position…

  10. …..of Presidential Candidate Hakainde Hichilema and his Party in the aborted ConCourt Petition that the Speaker should take over. I lost my argument as the ConCourt endorsed the UPND position. So according to the ConCourt, as the law stands now, the Speaker should have taken over from President Lungu. So why has the Sunday Mail hidden this fact? Obviously it is because the UPND’s argument has been sustained although this is via the Miyanda and Attorney General case.

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