By Isaac Mwanza
There are questions that are forming on whether the current by-election results have any pointers to the 2021 electoral outcomes and whether the opposition will do any better than they did in the 2016 elections. An outright answer to that question depends on a number of variables but any political party ought to take stock of lessons from by-election results in order to plan for general elections. For winners of by-elections, it is also important to do a self-introspection of their wins and what it may entail. I will specifically look at the mayoral by-election result in Lusaka district, a hotspot and cosmopolitan voting district, to analyse whether the ruling party and opposition political parties are getting stronger or weaker.
A brief of the 2016 Lusaka Mayoral election
In 2016, the voter turnout for mayoral election in Lusaka District stood at 55.38%. Barely two (2) years later, only about half of the 55% turned up to vote in mayoral elections, represented by 23.13% of registered voters in Lusaka District. In 2016 the now late Wilson Kalumba obtained 270, 161 votes with the UPND’s Maureen Mwanawasa polling 150, 807.
The better-performed candidates in third and fourth places in 2016 were independents, namely, Fisho Mwale and Elias Mpondela who polled 18, 299 and 6,410 votes, respectively, representing a fraction of voters that neither agreed with the PF nor UPND. The total number of voters who cast their votes but did not agree with established political parties in 2016 stood at 28, 569 voters, representing 6.15% of people who voted. The Peoples Alliance for Change (PAC) and National Democratic Congress (NDC) are new entrants in 2018 who have replaced the Independents.
A glance into the 2016 Mayoral by-election
All things being equal, a mathematician would have expected the parties who took part in the 2018 mayoral by-election in Lusaka District to obtain half of their original results from the 2016 mayoral elections. At 23.13% voter turnout in 2018 elections, the PF candidate should have received about 135,081 votes while the UPND candidate should have received about 75,404 votes.
However, PF’s Miles Sampa (now His Worship the Mayor of Lusaka) only managed to get 81, 936 votes compared to the expected 135,081, meaning 39.34% of those who voted for the PF candidate in 2016 mayoral elections didn’t vote for Mr. Sampa. The UPND’s Kangwa Chileshe polled 36, 753 votes compared to the expected 75,404 plus votes entails 51.26% of voters who voted for the UPND candidate 2016 didn’t vote for UPND’s Kangwa Chileshe.
On the other hand, the two parties that are new entrants in 2018 mayoral by-election polled 7,741 (PAC) and 2,645 votes. No one can tell whether the 28,569 voters who voted for independent candidates in 2016 mayoral elections in Lusaka district voted for PAC or NDC in 2018 by-elections but assuming the two new entrants could have benefited from their vote, a conclusion I am reluctant to make, at least half (14,285) of these should have turned up to give these two parties the votes. The PAC and NDC candidates got a combined total of 10,386 in the 2018 by-election elections. Not very bad, if this represents those who had earlier voted for independents in 2016.
The question is, what political parties should make of these results and comparisons?
2018 Electoral voting pattern
Firstly, it is clear that the voting pattern in Lusaka’s cosmopolitan district is based on party lines and nothing to do with the tribal identity of any candidate. 2 years after the 2016 elections, the ruling Patriotic Front still remains the strongest among the grassroots registered voters, with at least over 60% of those who voted for them in 2016 still willing to give their party the votes.
On the other hand, the UPND still remains the largest opposition party in Lusaka district although it must be noted that among its 2016 supporters, only about 49% were willing to turn up and vote for the party in 2018 mayoral by-elections in Lusaka district.
For the PAC and NDC, PAC appears to be the beneficiary of voters who did not like any of the established political parties in 2016. For NDC, it is a safe assumption that the majority of its 2,645 voters in the last election largely came from those who voted for the Patriotic Front in 2016 than any other party, taking into account how the NDC was formed and its membership drive.
Accounting for PF and UPND Performance in Lusaka District
The question still remains with regard to the PF and UPND, as to why their candidates could not manage to secure half of the votes of those who voted for their party in 2016 elections. I doubt if Wilson Kalumba could have been said to have been a popular candidate when he first stood for compared to His Worship the Mayor of Lusaka, Miles Sampa.
There are a few issues among the 40%, who in 2016 supported the PF candidate, but didn’t give Mr. Sampa their vote in 2018. The first issue is that a very smaller number now support the NDC, and in all probability, can be accounted towards the 40% of PF supporters who did not turn up to support Mr. Sampa. In an election, every vote counts.
The other issues the PF should understand is that part of the reason why its candidate could not get 135,000 votes among the 23% voters in 2018, may be because of voters who voted for the PF in 2016 whom Mr. Sampa disappointed and disrespected when he angrily left PF and formed his own party, denouncing the new PF President, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, as illegitimate.
Miles is one child of the PF party who has had many chances, and life is about giving each other a second chance. During late President Sata’s time, it was reported that Mr. Sampa had resigned, switched off the phone and went miles away. He was given a second chance. In 2015, upon the demise of President Sata, Miles was positioned by the so-called Guy Scott-M’membe cartel to frustrate the election of Edgar Lungu as party and Republican President. Edgar Lungu still embraced him and appointed him as Deputy Minister, giving Mr. Sampa a third chance.
In 2016, Miles Sampa went miles away and injured the PF voters with his hostile resignation from the party, forming his own party and then supporting the UPND leader Mr. Hichilema, as opposed to the PF’s Edgar Lungu in the 2016 presidential election. The hearts of these voters were still grieving against him. Like a prodigal son, he returned and Edgar Lungu and the top PF leadership still embraced him and gave him a fourth chance. There was no time for the part to convince these aggrieved grassroots supporters of the new Miles Sampa who deserved a fourth chance. Indeed, the PF leadership seem to understand what it means to forgive your brother 77 x 7 times as commanded by Jesus. Amidst this, does anyone wonder why Mr. Sampa could not garner even a paltry 135,000 plus vote from the 23% voter turnout?
On the other side, in the 2016 mayoral election the UPND had a much stronger candidate in Maureen Mwanawasa and an alternative choice even for those who were not UPND, compared to Chileshe Kangwa. This would explain one of the reasons why many of those who supported the UPND candidate in 2016 were not as keen to turn up and support Chileshe Kangwa, despite his issue-based approach to politics.
However, there could be other issues to explain the dismal performance of the UPND in 2018. From 2016 to date, the UPND leadership has been managing to keep the hope of its voters by talking about the 2016 presidential election petition that, allegedly, could not be heard due to effluxion of time. They kept assuring the supporters with claims that the presidential petition was still before court and that it would be heard one day soon. They also had continued to successfully make allegations that HH’s election was stolen, and with the failure of the court case, the leadership took advantage of the support and sympathy they enjoyed without availing the public with evidence of how the 2016 election was allegedly stolen nor show, from the UPND PVT, by what margin Mr. Hichilema could be said to have beaten PF’s Edgar Chagwa Lungu. Have those who vote for the UPND lost confidence in these stories meant to keep Mr. Hichilema as their 2021 candidate on the false claim that he had won in 2015 and 2016 but his votes had been stolen, and some could have started acting against him?
More tellingly, there is great significance in the mere fact of UPND officials at District level even just shaking hands with their bitter rivals in PF. That UPND officials can even walk into PF offices, and vice versa, for the two rival parties to talk, is earth-shaking! Could we be seeing the first signs of Mr. Hichilema’s grip on the UPND, weakening, or the UPND grassroots leadership taking the bold decision to seek a new path?
Granted, the UPND top leadership have “allowed” their district officials to interact with their PF counterparts in the joint effort to find peace on the electoral front, but that would invite a further question; why allow them when Mr. Hichilema himself has to wait for the church or Commonwealth to bring him face to face with Republican President Edgar Lungu? This event, UPND leaders actually visiting PF leaders at the PF offices, and vice versa, could mark the beginning of something quite significant. What it is, or will be, I will not venture a guess.
Generally, the PF remains the strongest party among the grassroots voters amidst the biting economy, the increased unemployment levels and the dissatisfaction among the youth voters that they are seen as footnotes in the political book and not engaged in active decision making. To these voters, the adage, “the devil you know is better than an angel you don’t know” always apply, when deciding between Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu’s PF and Mr. Hakainde Hichilema’s UPND.
The PF worries must revolve around how social media can be an influence on new voters in 2021 elections, how issues of the economy, unemployment, may have a telling effect on the 2021 electoral result. There is no time for them except to move in and address these issues. Farmers in rural areas have still given the PF benefit of doubt but that patience should be reciprocated with the PF delivering inputs on time.
For UPND, it is clear the party performance is going down at a pace that should worry its leaders and members. Why is the UPND failing to convince voters even when opposition propaganda has been putting the ruling party on defensive? UPND may need to re-think its leadership and whether it inspires the grassroots structures across the country and not just in its strongholds, to actual mobilisation. UPND’s presence at the grassroots is somehow invisible as compared to the PF and these upcoming parties like PAC.
Finally, I am of the view that there is no opposition to unseat the ruling PF in 2021 and it will take a lot of factors for PF to lose 2021 or the opposition to win the 2021 elections. In fact, the new strategy of the PF leaders and UPND leaders getting to the table to talk about the urgent need to end electoral violence, may be building the public image of the PF’s commitment to ending violence and removing from the hands of the UPND the song it has used to win the hearts of voters who dislike violence.
Disclaimer: This article does not represent the views of any association, institution, or organisation the author may be affiliated to and neither does it represent the views of any media house but solely those of the author