The latest Economist Intelligence Unit report on Zambia has predicted that the media reports about high level corruption in the PF will damage the party ahead of the 2021 elections.
But the EIU has retained its forecast of a victory for President Edgar Lungu in 2021 if he is allowed to stand -given strong incumbency powers.
The EUI however warns that this forecast does carry risks; for example, an opposition alliance would be a game-changer.
On its Election Watch, the EIU said assuming Mr Lungu is deemed eligible to stand again, his control over the party machinery and the support of most of the Central Committee, as well as a tightening grip on the media and state institutions, should see him secure the PF nomination.
It predicts that influential and usually old guard rivals will also be expelled or opt to leave.
“But this will come at a cost; there is deep-seated public concern about corruption—for good reason—and ministers that have left office so far have chosen to expose malpractice on their way out. Citing graft is a means by which ambitious politicians leaving government can begin afresh, in opposition, with a powerful campaigning message at their disposal. As the PF shake-up continues there will probably be similar allegations, and the associated bad press would be damaging for the PF,” it forecasts.
“The same applies to an impeachment motion against Mr Lungu for gross mismanagement currently being brought forward by the United Party for National Development (UPND), Zambia’s largest opposition party; the motion is destined to fail, but will be an embarrassment to the president. Standing to gain from all this is the UPND, the National Democratic Congress—founded by an ex PF minister expelled by Mr Lungu in mid2017—which is already making inroads into the ruling party’s Copperbelt heartland on an anti-corruption platform, and potentially the newer Socialist Party.”
It observes that the UPND is the most viable contender for the presidency, but has become relatively directionless since fierce government crackdowns on its leadership in 2017.
The EIU predicted that Zambia will face substantial threats to political stability in 2018-22 much of this stems from what is for Zambia an unusual degree of social division and political intolerance under the presidency of President Lungu.
“Given the widespread perception among the opposition that corruption is worsening, job opportunities are too few and Zambia is descending into authoritarianism, pent-up frustration could spark serious turbulence. For example, unrest is likely to break out when the Constitutional Court delivers its verdict on whether Mr. Lungu is eligible to stand for another term in the 2021 election; the date for the verdict has not been given. If another term is deemed unconstitutional, Mr Lungu has himself publicly warned the Constitutional Court of chaos, but as the president appoints its judges, such a verdict is unlikely. Even so, clear politicisation of the judicial process also means that a ruling deeming him eligible to stand again is likely to be perceived as tainted by the opposition.”
It added, “Any related unrest is likely to be in the form of opposition protests, potentially involving low-level violence. The run-up and execution of the 2021 election will be another volatile period, during which the government will look to aggressively narrow the political space. Indeed, any time Mr Lungu feels his position is vulnerable, there are likely to be crackdowns, which in turn risk building resentment. If disorder becomes widespread, as is likely, extra security powers could come into force, as they did for three months in 2017. On the one hand, this would act as a mechanism for bolstering overall stability; on the other, it would reinforce perceptions that Zambia is staggering towards autocracy and exacerbate underlying social tensions.”
It said, “Besides toxic relations with the opposition, the government will continue to be split between a conservative (“old guard”) faction that founded the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), which has long been sceptical of the president, and loyalists of Mr Lungu. Ministers from the old guard have already resigned or been purged, but this restructure lost direction when the finance minister, Felix Mutati, was demoted in an apparent concession to this faction, which has long wanted him out of cabinet. Ultimately, Mr Lungu’s control over the party is based more on short-term manoeuvring than clear strategy (other than his overarching goal of securing the PF’s presidential nomination at a party congress in 2020). “
It added that although open rivals for the party’s presidential nomination are still likely to be purged, the process will be erratic and will leave the government unstable and policy implementation unpredictable.