Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa taking some notes during a public discussion organized by the Oasis Forum in Lusaka on Tuesday evening
Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa taking some notes during a public discussion organized by the Oasis Forum in Lusaka on Tuesday evening

By Sishuwa Sishuwa

On 24 April 2018, voters in 16 different wards spread across the country went to the polls to choose new representatives following a series of vacancies occasioned by the death or resignation of incumbent councillors. The affected wards were Luapula and Kansuswa on the Copperbelt, Chiweza and Chiwuyu in Eastern Province, Ntumbachushi and Munwa in Luapula Province, Nampundwe in Lusaka, Mikunku, Kakoma and Kalebe in Muchinga Province, Kanongo, Mushima, Mudyanyama and Kalilele in Northwestern Province, Mwanza East in Southern Province and Lealui Lower in Western Province. As well as winning Lealui Lower and Kalilele, the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) scooped all the seats in Eastern, Copperbelt, Muchinga, Luapula, and Lusaka provinces while the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) secured victories in the remaining four in Northwestern, Southern and Western provinces.

The ruling party has since seized upon this favourable outcome as evidence that Zambians are happy with its performance in government. PF Secretary General Davies Mwila claimed that winning 12 of the 16 local government by-elections is also a sign that Zambians have great confidence in the leadership of President Edgar Lungu. The UPND, through its Deputy Secretary General Patrick Mucheleka, has countered by claiming that the results should be understood as a consequence of both the thuggish behaviour of PF cadres who intimidated opposition activists and the ruling party’s capacity to buy off voters.

Neither of these two competing perspectives tells us the full story. Broadly speaking, the results of the recent local government by-elections tell us two things.

First, with two exceptions, they all conform to existing voting patterns. Barring its success in Lealui Lower and Kalilele wards, the PF won all the seats that it was expected to, located in constituencies where it has enjoyed strong support for well over a decade. Efforts by the party’s leadership to overanalyse or draw larger conclusions from the results of the recent ward elections should therefore be treated with caution. Incumbency advantage matters a lot in these kind of electoral contests – those used to fill elected offices that have become vacant between general elections – and party performance is hardly an indicator of the prevailing national public mood. Ahead of the 2011 election, for instance, the then governing Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) won nearly all the local-government and parliamentary by-elections held between 2006 and 2011. When a general election was called, however, the MMD lost, thanks to an unpopular presidential candidate, internecine factionalism and a more effective opposition. As well as celebrating the unexpected victories in Lealui and Kalilele, Mwila would have done well to limit his interpretation of the results to reminding the UPND that, on the evidence of the latest results, the opposition party’s recent claims of political ascendance in traditional PF constituencies such as Eastern, Lusaka, Luapula, Muchinga and Copperbelt provinces are unfounded.

Similarly, the UPND secured victories in four of the six wards where anything other than a win for them would have come as a surprise. The opposition party’s loss in PF strongholds was equally expected. Even if the elections were completely free of bribery, violence and harassment, it would have been astonishing if the majority of voters in Eastern, Lusaka, Luapula, Muchinga and Copperbelt provinces did not support the ruling party. In addition to acknowledging that his party made costly mistakes, such as selecting candidates who did not command the support of the grassroots in Lealui and Kalilele wards, Mucheleka would have done well to congratulate the PF on their effective electoral strategy and decent performance. The argument that the violence that characterised the campaigns was responsible for the UPND’s dismal showing in PF strongholds is weakened by the opposition party’s relatively poor performance even in Western and Northwestern provinces, two of its traditional constituencies where no reports of violence were recorded. Besides, if we apply the same logic or principle, we may then explain the PF’s loss of the election in Southern Province as a result of the thuggish behaviour of UPND cadres who also engaged in acts of violence against PF supporters.

The truth is that the competing perspectives of the two main political parties in relation to the outcome of the recent local government by-elections demonstrate that the Zambian society is presently so polarised politically that many people would rather cling on to a perspective that supports their preferred position even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. This is a damaging attitude that encourages obstinate conventionality, the security of prejudice and the relentless focus on short-term and ephemeral issues at the expense of paying attention to the larger and more serious concerns confronting Zambia. We will do well to embrace the unfamiliar, to learn to eschew haste in passing judgement, to seek answers to why and responses to why not, to consider accepting some things, not contesting all, and to check our obsession with searching for new stories or narratives that conform to our pre-existing or entrenched biases.

Second, the results of the recent local government by-elections reinforce the enduring reluctance of Zambia’s main political parties to ascribe loss of electoral contests to the possible ineffectiveness of their political strategies. A likely explanation for this behaviour by both the ruling and opposition parties is the notorious tendency to write off their electoral prospects in certain areas of the country on the assumption that voters in such places are natural supporters of one party or the other without understanding what drives voting behaviour. Take the example of Northwestern Province. In many ways, the province has become more similar to the Copperbelt in terms of economic structures over the last ten years. Politically however, the two provinces remain very different. Voters in Northwestern can see that there is a mining boom unfolding around them, one that they are however gaining little benefit from. Poorly remunerated mineworkers, for the few that are fortunate to find jobs in an industry that is increasingly resorting to mechanisation in an attempt to reduce costs, generally feel neglected as both government officials and trade union representatives appear to have been bought off by the deep pockets of foreign investors. Many rural residents, a number of whom have been dispossessed of their land by powerful multinational corporations, and the growing urban poor, feel left behind and abandoned by a governing party that is dominated by a tendency towards centralisation and which continues to show little interest in knowing their actual grievances and meeting their aspirations. It is this general sense of marginalisation, rather than the UPND’s tepid economic policies, which drives the support of many voters in Northwestern Province for the opposition. Successive ruling parties however remain unreceptive to such protest votes, choosing instead to interpret the voting behaviour of Northwesterners in generally ethnic-linguistic terms.

Similarly, the UPND appears to have a poor understanding about why voters in Northern, Luapula and Muchinga provinces vote so consistently for the PF. The main opposition seems to think that the only way of winning the support of Bemba-speaking voters is through the recruitment of tokenist ‘ethnic big men and women’ or prominent local Bemba-speaking figures to the party, hoping that voters will then follow. This strategy has been largely unsuccessful but the UPND is showing no interest in broadening its appeal in Bemba-speaking rural communities beyond the use of an ethnic strategy. As the PF should do in UPND electoral bases, the UPND would do well to identify and articulate the actual concerns and interests of voters in PF strongholds. A careful and thorough analysis of voting behaviour in either PF or UPND power bases is likely to reveal that ‘ethnicity is not the answer; it is that which needs to be explained’. For within what appears to be ethnic voting is a coalition of demands or grievances that have not been adequately addressed.

If ruling and opposition parties wish to perform well in future elections especially in their opponents’ strongholds, they should consider revising their political strategies. One way of achieving this outcome is by allowing the grassroots, instead of the central leadership in Lusaka or at the provincial headquarters, to transparently determine the choice of party candidates to run for office. The PF did an excellent job on this score in Lealui and Kalilele wards while the UPND needs to undertake a candid post-mortem. Another is for the parties to begin tailoring their actual campaign messages to specific policy appeals that are salient to the aspirations or concerns of the local people. A cursory glance at the campaign messages of mainly opposition parties prior to the recent by-elections revealed their detachment from a politics that was locally constituted in that many of them resorted to discussing broader national concerns like the erosion of democratic principles, the rising levels of public debt and corruption in government, or the soaring rate of unemployment. While these topics may be important at national level, especially in urban centres, they are hardly the sorts of concerns that excite the imagination of voters at ward levels, especially in rural areas.

The point is that the main parties are generally failing to reach beyond their bases and break the status quo. Had the UPND been able, for example, to win a series of seats in Northern Province, or had the PF secured a few seats in Southern Province, such an outcome would have been significant and more enlightening. The fact that neither party did suggests that their political strategies for winning elections outside their strongholds are not working. Partisan supporters of the UPND and the PF should take note of this point. The argument by Mucheleka that the PF’s deployment of state resources for partisan use disadvantaged the opposition only serves to highlight the political ineptitude of the UPND campaign strategy. To remind Mucheleka and his party: Michael Sata won the 2011 elections using “Don’t Kubeba”, a double-edged strategy that encouraged voters to accept the electoral gifts that the politicians gave them, but to vote according to their conscience once in the ballot booth. This tactic proved to be an effective and economically viable way of dealing with political competitors who could afford to comprehensively outspend their opposition. Instead of complaining about the PF’s bottomless financial muscle, the UPND and other opposition parties would do well to adopt a similar strategy in future. This, however, requires taking a long, hard look at the limits of their current political strategy.

One of the important features of the overall outcome of the recent by-elections is that the PF generally fared better in UPND strongholds than the opposition did in traditional PF constituencies. In all the four wards won by the UPND, the PF came consistently second and the margins between the winning and runners-up candidates, except in Southern Province, were very narrow. In one ward in Northwestern Province, one that the opposition party previously won with a landslide, the UPND candidate obtained the same number of votes as the PF contestant and it had to take the returning officer to draw a ‘lot’ (putting the two candidates’ names in a ceramic bowl and pulling one of them by chance) in order to determine the winner. In wards that the PF won, except in Western and Northwestern provinces, the margins between the winning and runners-up UPND candidates were wide. In one ward, in Luapula Province, the UPND came joint-second with Chishimba Kambwili’s embryonic National Democratic Congress. If these trends continue ahead of the 2021 general election, the UPND may have cause for concern. Zambia’s political geography is such that to win a general election, a party generally needs to retain high level of support in its strongholds and avoid losing by large margins in areas that are traditionally loyal to their opponents.

[Read 20 times, 1 reads today]
Loading...

48 COMMENTS

  1. Author, you deliberately ignored to mention or frantically state that the UPND has been losing general elections for a record 5th time under one ineffective leader and it is so surprising that they still continue to field the same loser. Its very clear that the electorates have even known this candidate and what he stands for, his mental capacity and judgement. Given the above its highly unlikely that UPND will form government under this leader and its could have helped them if they swallowed their pride and called changes at highest level including its presidential candidate.

    23

    9
    • Lusaka times please gives us news…current affairs. LT is now becoming boring too many essays and columns…this is old fashioned journalism when people had time to read. People visit your site for breaking news not columns..fyakale

      9

      7
    • He bottom line is that the prints are on the wall. The Zambian people spoke.

      1

      0
    • 1.1 you’re right. …people have found LT the easiest way to feed us their garbage.

      1

      2
    • The author is a UPND sympathizer hence this unbalanced analysis. The people have spoken and you want to bring in unnecessary analysis.

      2

      2
  2. When it comes to violence both the PF and the UPND are guilty. Sometimes the UPND is even worse. The UPND performs very exceptional on social media platforms. They recently claimed that they had penetrated Copperbelt, Eastern and Northern provinces. What they posted on YouTube as their card renewal rallies in the three provinces isn’t reflective of the outcome of the by-elections. The UPND doctors and believes it’s own propaganda, but why do they engage in such self-deception? Only their supporters can answer

    13

    3
  3. Not forgetting that one ward in NWP was won by Upnd via a toss after the two parties tied at 209 apiece.

    8

    1
  4. This NDC is actually a big threat to PF, its amazing how dull people can be to give a party like NDC a chance! What can the worst corrupt rotten eggs that were rejected from PF do to help Zambians? It shows that the problem is not leaders in Zambia but their followers! I do believe NDC is a spoiler for UPND unless they form an alliance come 2021-which is a possibilty- whatever the case the ones who should pull up their socks are PF because the people are not happy! Those who believe UPND are a tribal party in Eastern, Northern and Luapula but are not happy with PF will almost certainly go for NDC as an alternative. What this means is
    less votes for PF come 2021!

    5

    6
  5. Well articulated article only that our Politicians especially from the opposition are not willing to draw lessons from their ineffectiveness. They want to operate like stones.

    10

    4
  6. For once Sishuwa Sishuwa has attempted to be objective but not succeeded. In my view, it is the UPND who lost a lot from local govt. by-elections: while PF won in some of their strongholds (Western and Northwestern), the UPND did not make any in-roads in PF strongholds. In Western Province, badala actually went to campaign. So I would worry if i was a UPND strategist but I am not.

    7

    5
  7. If I may add. Reference to MMD by-elections performance prior to 2011 elections is being over-stretched. MMD did not win by-elections in PF strongholds the way PF has done with UPND especially where Sata personally went to campaign. So false analogy bwana. Dynamics are completely different. And 2021 is not far.

    5

    2
    • Upnd cohorts just want to console themselves by drawing lessons from what never happened.

      6

      3
  8. No strategy against the UPND works in Southern Province. Even if you build schools or clinics every square km,build roads, distribute free agricultural inputs, etc, nothing will work. What they want is HH and a southerner to be President, full stop. And the name of the winning party should be UPND.

    17

    1
    • Their agenda is simple, “it’s our time to rule”. The vessel is UPND (manufacturedo by late Andy Mazoka) and the skipper is HH.

      5

      0
  9. The biggest lesson is that you can’t fool Zambians with fake news in media like mast, prime tv, watchdog etc. From the time GBM lost in 2001 in Kabwata after distributing bicycles, it is apparent that the educated and elite don’t realise that Zambians are capable of making rational decisions. The upnd, whose strategy is fixed on tribal hegemony, falsehoods and elitism has failed repeatedly to inspire Zambians; the sooner they realise they need an overhaul of stratagem and personnel, the better-otherwise disaster looms in 2021.

    2

    0
  10. Sean Tembo is a man. The way he reduced UPNDs Kalani Muchima to pulp on oxygen of democracy TV program is unbelievable. The interviewer tried to cheat people that he was asking on behalf of people while pushing personal opinions and agendas, Sean was too sharp, just told the guy to change his mindset.

    3

    0
  11. Dr.Sishuwa Sishuwa has tried but he has lied on the fact that MMD won almost all by elections before 2011.this is not true.it was actually Mr Sata’s PF which was scooping by elections a clear signal which showed Zambians that indeed Mr Sata’s PF would defeat RB’s MMD in 2011.SIGNS OF PF WINNING IN 2011 WERE BECOMING CLEAR AND CLEAR IN ZAMBIA EVERYDAY!!!
    After 2016 elections,a lot of by elections have been held in Zambia,many of those have been won by PF especially in its strongholds!!THE STRATEGY OF USING KNOWN NAMES IN BEMBA LAND SUCH AS MUTALE NALUMANGO,GBM,KAMBWILI,MILES SAMPA,ETC WONT WIN UPND ANY VOTES BECAUSE THEY DONT FEED ANYONE IN THOSE PROVINCES!!!UPND’s message of hope must convince voters in PF strongholds and nothing else!!
    THE FACT IS PF IS STILL BY FAR THE FAVOURITE…

    7

    2
    • They are discredited like Siamunene was after accepting a job as Minister of defense.

      2

      0
    • @Njimbu, it is not true that Sata’s PF won most of the by-elections before 2011. If you check the ECZ website, (click where it says Results, then click where it says past by-election results before clicking where it says 2007 to 2011 parliamentary and local govt election results) you will establish that the MMD indeed won most of the by-elelctions (LOCAL GOVT and parliamentary) that were held between 2006 and 2011. Verify some of these things before you launch your attacks or call the guy names

      2

      0
  12. ‘”ONLY A TONGA MUST LEAD UPND” says Sejani. Dr. Sishuwa, your analysis is fair but you have not adequately addressed the ineffective strategy employed by UPND to win the votes in the swing provinces of Lusaka and Copperbelt. In 2001 these two provinces voted massively for UPND and since that time UPND has never captured them again. The reason is simple. HH is known on the copperbelt as someone who dubiously and selfishly benefited from the privatization of the mines. This fact is still fresh in the minds of ABENA KOPALA. The same fact has spilled over to Lusaka. In addition to this HH is considered by many to be a tribalist, a bitter man, full of himself, a white color thief. Therefore, as long as HH is at the helm of UPND, the party will continue losing elections. HH A TICKING TIME…

    7

    1
  13. There are no Lessons to be learnt from the by-elections? Zambia is a failed state with no governance institutions and controlled by the dictator ,corrupt Lungu.

    4

    3
  14. We have no time readin such long class assignmentss

    We are busy making money. Be brief to the point

    0

    1
  15. “discussing broader national concerns like the erosion of democratic principles, the rising levels of public debt and corruption in government, or the soaring rate of unemployment”……”While these topics may be important at national level, especially in urban centres, they are hardly the sorts of concerns that excite the imagination of voters at ward levels, especially in rural areas.”
    Great point!…Actually this is also true even in some Urban areas.
    Many poor Zambians don’t see beyond their empty stomachs.This suits the ruling party who easily sell their falsehoods to the people.

    5

    2
  16. Very analytical stuff. The point however is that if the PF is given another term in 2021, that will undoubtedly mean the end of this country.

    3

    3
  17. Parallels could also b drawn from the higher levels of apathy that often characterize such elections. Factor in the number of registered voters and u have a whole new bearing to the scenario

    0

    1
  18. My worst worry is UPND may win by aggregate. If you numbers you will agree that in on ward UPND scoops 2000 votes when PF is winning yes but may be with 200 votes. If it happens at Presidential level on aggregate the one who is loosing by 100 votes in some areas and wing with 2000 votes is likely to pick it up. PF my party should look at this trend carefully

    2

    0
    • You are very right.The UPND may win the Presidential elections in 2021 and lose at Parliamentary and local government levels.Ultimately, it will be UPND to form govt because we operate a Presidential system of government in Zambia.

      1

      2
  19. 2020vision watch your address to Zambians. You cannot write that Zambians are dull and you expect the masses to rally with your choice. Convince the masses. NDC is massively coming on board and this should worry both giants.

    0

    0
  20. I certainly don’t feel any sympathy for citizens who don’t know what is good for them

    0

    0
  21. Dr Sishuwa, that really was to the point, that was execllent! Keep it up bro! We need pipo like that in Zambia.

    3

    0
  22. Even in the U.S there are certain states that will never vote for democrates and vice versa. New York is a blue state where as souther states such as Texas, colarado are red states.

    1

    0
  23. @Liwewe’s ghost. MMD won most by-elections. What is totally not factual is that MMD won by-elections in PF’s backyard. MMD, a party in power never won by-elections in any PF stronghold (I mean stronghold before PF started ruling). Check Nchanga and Kanchibiya by-elections results. PF won in their backyard. This is the nuance our dear PhD holder has not captured in article with regards to UPND backyards in western and Northwestern provinces. UPND has work to do Bwana.

    (PF strongholds before 2011 excluded places such as Lusaka rural, Copperbelt rural, Eastern province, Mbala-Isoka-Mpulungu area of Northern Province, Central province (with the exception of Kabwe), western and Northwestern)

    0

    0
    • Where in the article does it say that “MMD won by-elections in PF’s backyard”?

      2

      2
  24. The biggest lesson is that you can’t f.0.0.l Zambians with fake news in media like mast, prime tv, watchdog etc. From the time GBM lost in 2001 in Kabwata after distributing bicycles, it is apparent that the educated and elite don’t realise that Zambians are capable of making rational decisions. The upnd, whose strategy is fixed on tribal hegemony, falsehoods and elitism has failed repeatedly to inspire Zambians; the sooner they realise they need an overhaul of stratagem and personnel, the better-otherwise disaster looms in 2021.

    0

    0
  25. @ 28.1 Mwebantu. There is no where in the article where it says ‘MMD won by-elctions in PF’s backyard”. My understanding of Mpundu Mwaume’s point is that the author, by saying ‘MMD won the majority of by-elecitons before 2011’ is omitting an important point. He is basing his contention on the the fact that unlike the current case of UPND losing in some of their alleged strongholds (backyard) to PF, the PF (then in opposition!) did not lose by-elections before 2011 in their strongholds (backyard) to the ruling MMD. For Mpundu Mwaume, we cannot compare prior 2011 by-elections to the immediate past by-elections.

    2

    0
    • @loud and smart. That is a very good point you make and it is valid when presented as an argument that the author could’ve considered. However, those saying that the author lied by stating that the MMD won most of the local govt and parliamentary by-elelctions held between 2006 and 2011 are wrong because that is factual or the truth. The aspect of where the MMD won the by-elelctions (the location or whose stronghold it was: opposition or ruling party) is a separate issue altogether.

      2

      0
  26. @Lound and smart. Thanks mate. Put differently, the author is equating ‘Masuku’ and ‘Impundu’ simply because both are wild fruits picked from the ground when ready.

    1

    0
  27. @Mwebantu. Agreed. And that argument is important because election results show whether a party is losing ground, gaining ground or remaining the same.

    0

    0

Comments are closed.