By Prince Ndoyi
My most immediate reaction to the honorous defeat of the UPND in the Chilanga By election by our alliance partners PF, is that they must quickly self introspect. They cannot wean off and pretend nothing happened or else this is the beginning of the end for UPND.
Under normal circumstances irrespective of who stood on UPND, the result wouldn’t have changed. Could it be that the party is fatigued by the leadership and its errors? In fact, Charmaine Musonda had a better chance of winning the seat given the status quo. Someone else would have lost to PF by 2pm.
Well before the actual election and the selection of candidates for both UPND and PF, the self acclaimed father of quantitative election analysis, Zambian Watchdog predicted a huge loss for UPND on the basis of nothing but the poor selection of the candidate.
After the elections many are blasting the UPND leadership for being tone-deaf: “A metaphor about a car in the ditch when people are in trouble and angry, it’s just out of touch with what’s going on,”
Why did the Chilanga voters vote like that? The truth is that voters don’t have anything like coherent preferences. Most people pay little attention to politics; when they vote, if they vote at all, they do so irrationally and for contradictory reasons. Ordinary citizens like those in Chilanga have preferences about what the government ought to do; they elect leaders who will carry out those preferences and vote against those who will not; in the end, we’re left with a government that more or less serves the majority.
Even voters who pay close attention to politics are prone — in fact, more prone — to biased or blinkered decision-making. The reason is simple: Most people make political decisions on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not an honest examination of reality. So why did they vote this way?
Was this disaster caused by reactions to the awful leadership and choice of candidate —or the economy that HH and his UPND believes only he can save, but not sufficiently to please voters? But even if it was not about the economy, there’s no guarantee that 2021 will be any better. The economy may not improve—in part because if PF are to have any hope of turning things around in the economy, a lot has to change, fast. The only thing missing with PF is a “Mission Accomplished” banner.
At face value, losing Chilanga is signal enough that the party needs to answer the ever pending difficult question about the future and a leadership test at a democratically set convention.
We cannot divorce a parliamentary by election from the party president. We operate in a Presidential system, that’s why in African politics and democracy its almost easier to predict a winner in a general election from the Presidential candidate who gets more Members of Parliament. Because the voting pattern is almost linear in both instances; Presidential and parliamentary candidates.
There is a looming leadership crisis in UPND, and UPND will do themselves a de-service to ignore it. UPND’s failed strategy is the same too. Thats why this talk about 2021 sole candidates is somewhat a dangerous and slippery path for all political parties in Zambia especially for UPND while losing elections(seats).
Politically speaking: where does UPND go from here? The party is losing support from virtually their demographic superior grounds. An impressive electoral map that UPND enjoyed in 2016 is slowly evaporating. They are on a downward spiral and shrewd politicians like GBM can sense danger already.
As young democrats, we need to make it clear that for anyone to be a leader of any Democratic agenda they must be democrats themselves— and all indications are that he or she needs to renew their mandate with their members— or else they will advance that agenda anyway, with or without his/her help. UPND as a party has to be ready to delink their political fate from Hakainde Hichilema, and make it clear that they won’t tolerate further undermining of their goals by deluded calls for no intra party elections.
How far should delinking from HH go? There is no obvious contender to mount a primary challenge, which is in itself a testimony to democratic weakness within UPND. But the possibility is clearly there, and both will and should become a reality if HH and his hand picked leadership follows a path of capitulation.
In 2006, many UPND members fell for the fantasy of hope on the cheap; they believed HH’s promises to lead the party in a democratic manner and possibly form government. It was not to be, and clinging to that illusion will only lead to more defeats. If progressives want to rebound, they’ll have to fight. MMD did it, though painfully but it was done and a dictator Nevers Mumba is no more, only the future will tell.
We think people’s preferences are complex and the way they bring them to bear in politics is complex like they have done in Chilanga and that’s part of what needs to be understood by UPND soon enough constructively in improving their political process. The truth is that Chilanga is communicating something not only to UPND but PF inclusive, especially the opposition ahead of 2021. Strategies and rhetorics must change.