By Chimwemwe Mwanza
Vicious, vindictive and vengeful aptly describes the Zambian political arena. Former Presidents, Kenneth Kaunda, Rupiah Banda and the late Frederick Chiluba all have scars to prove this. In the 80’s, Kaunda locked up Chiluba on flimsy charges that failed to hold in a court of law. After he became Head of State, Chiluba retaliated by sending Kaunda to Mukobeko maximum prison.
The irony for Chiluba is that his handpicked successor, Levy Mwanawasa motivated Parliament to waive off the latter’s immunity thereby exposing Chiluba to several graft charges formulated by the now defunct Task Force on Corruption. With his legacy tainted by a skewed narrative, only death saved Chiluba from possible jail time. To erase his predecessor’s legacy and ensure his humiliation, the late Sata’s PF re-created this trend by consigning Rupiah to a life of court appearances.
Off significance to this conversation, UPND leader, Hakainde Hichilema (HH) served time in Lilayi prison on a laughable treason charge – this at the hands of the current PF regime. For a fact, HH has never hidden his disdain for President Edgar Lungu and his stint in a tiny Lilayi prison cell has probably served to reinforce the UPND leader’s contempt for the President.
Just why such vindictiveness and blatant abuse of power seems to gratify incumbents is hard to understand. In the absence of reason, one might well speculate that this show of brutality is all about a naked flexing of political muscle – a bit more like, ‘can I show you who is the boss’. Whatever the reason, the difficulty is that this trend erodes the very democratic tenets and political maturity that Zambia is renowned for in the rest of Africa and the world over.
Which makes 2021 an interesting contest. Other than bread and butter issues, the fore mentioned factors will weigh heavily on the minds of both President Lungu and HH heading closer to the polls.
Who is likely to win?
The tiny but seismic shift in fundamentals on the ground seem to suggest that this will be a closely fought contest. Besides, recent electoral predictions across the globe – even by the most experienced pundits have gone against the grain making it even more difficult to provide an accurate outcome.
For example, in 2012, several analysts predicted an outright victory for Rupiah’s MMD only for the PF to spring a surprise. Suffice to acknowledge that, while characteristics of the Zambian electoral landscape may differ in comparison to mature democracies, there are similarities to draw from – especially in elections where the voter’s desire for change outweighs any other considerations.
Unaware of a groundswell desire for change, an over-confident former British Premier, David Cameroon called a snap referendum to determine Britain’s future in the European Union (EU). He was stunned at the outcome. Against odds, the British electorate voted for Brexit thus paving the way for what has now become Britain’s messy divorce from the EU trade block.
Humiliated by a razor thin loss to Brexit supporters, Cameroon was forced to call his time as leader of the conservative party. In yet one of the biggest election upsets of the 21st century, Donald Trump steam-rolled establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton to become the 45th President of the US. Therefore, the notion that either the PF or UPND might have an edge over the other heading towards 2021 is fallacious. Truth is, this is an election that could swing either way.
Why ECL will be desperate to win
Despite the PF’s public show of confidence, their determined focus on HH and constant whip-lashing of his perceived tribal inclinations, best illustrates their genuine fears and by extention their desperation. Rightly so, they can’t afford to be complacent. 2021 will be a referendum on their ten years in power. Be rest assured that this is one election where the PF’s well – oiled propaganda machinery will likely throw both the sink and kitchen at the UPND bearing in mind what is at stake. In fact, the proposed amendment to the constitution is intended to disadvantage the opposition ahead of the polls.
What troubles the mind is that the current constitution which the PF is attempting to discard was signed into law by the sitting President amid a jam-packed Independence stadium. Three years later, it’s tempting to ask. What has changed to warrant an amendment to this sacred document? By now, PF knows too well that the much-punted humility of their candidate might be a hard-sale more so to an electorate that appears too desperate for change. They can’t afford lethargic arguments such as they being the only party with a manifesto. Need they be reminded that having a manifesto is one thing and delivering on its content is another.
What about the promise that they would lower taxes and put more money in the pockets of the working class? Did they deliver on such including creation of job opportunities? You be the judge. The President is aware that he will be facing an electorate that is weary of rising food costs. A persistent drought over the last two seasons has only compounded the hunger situation – more so in outlying areas of the country. In addition, the policy uncertainty in mining taxation and the stand – off between government and sections of the mining community is taking its toll on economic growth. Perceptions around inaction on corruption might not help his cause either. While some of these challenges might not be, the PF’s making, the electorate always tend to punish a sitting government for their suffering – sometimes unfairly so.
Never mind whether HH has genuine or has yet to formulate charges against the PF, he has consistently warned that the PF leadership will be called to account for wrong doing once he becomes President. The tacit implication of this threat is that, HH is already extending bed spaces at Chimbokaila, Kamwala Remand and possibly Lilayi prisons for use by the PF leadership. And knowing fully well what is at stake, a possible loss is too ghastly for the PF to contemplate. For President Lungu, there will be no better motivation to win the polls than lose to a sworn rival.
Its State House or bust for HH
PF has over-exposed the country to a mountain of debt that will outlive generations to come. It is precisely why the 2021 polls will boil down to the economy. As a businessman, HH knows too well the implications of our foreign debt on the fiscus. Zambia can’t afford to keep borrowing to fund consumption and expenditure on non-productive sectors of the economy.
This is the message he has been selling the grassroots. For a fact, he has the support of the broader investment community, including some global mining giants. Most important though, the International Monetary Fund appears to have factored in his possible victory in 2021 hence their reluctance to engage the current government on a possible economic rescue package.
The question is, has the UPND leader’s message of change found resonance with the electorate? While he appeals to the affluent and middle class in Parklands, Kansenshi and Kabulonga, the grassroots in Mandevu, kwa Nagoli and Chamboli seem to be struggling to grasp his vision for the country. Be reminded that he desperately needs this voting block to win the elections.
Against the backdrop of challenges, this looks like HH’s election to lose. Fact is, he can’t afford a record of 4 election loses on the trot. Such a scenario will certainly cast him into political wilderness and the glue that’s bound the UPND together over the years will finally loosen. Is this what he wants?
It’s entirely up to him and how he manages his campaign otherwise it might just well be that he will once again fall short of expectation and hand the PF another 5 years in power. And him being such a vexatious litigant, our Supreme and Constitutional courts will likely be kept busy. Watch this space.
The author is an avid reader of political history and philosophy. He loves Nshima with game meat. For feedback contact him on kwachaoneATgmailDOTcom