By Parkie Mbozi
The much-anticipated bye-elections in Milenge in Luapula Province and Ilambo ward in Lupoposhi constituency in Northern province came and went.
The dust has hardly settled down due to the exciting but shocking results in Ilambo. The English say the ‘devil is in the detail’. Unfortunately, in our society there is hardly any attention to the detail of an election. All players simply celebrate the end of another election; in same cases ‘just one of those elections’. For political parties the endgame is simply about whether or not they won or lost the contested seat. So, they either celebrate or commiserate with themselves for the ‘loss’. I say ‘loss’ (in inverted commas) because within some ‘losses’ there are hidden gains. But I will come to that later.
Contrast our casual approach to election detail to advanced democracies. In those societies the political parties, researchers, pundits, the media, etc all analyse elections to the bone, not just about the final winner and loser. They sift through data to profile who voted for whom among the various demographics: for instance, by sex, age, race, social status, religion, including sexual orientation (controversial as it could be in Zambia).
This level of analysis maybe be taxing and requires more data capturing by the electoral system but it is worth every penny. Parties use it for targeted campaigns and communication. They call it ‘smart’ campaigning. Campaigns that are sent ‘to whom it may concern’ often end up on a rock; ‘the birds of the air’ just devour such campaigns (as posited in Luke 8:4-18). Anyway, that’s a story for another day.
Back to election analysis; going forward, Zambian electoral players should aim for detailed analysis of the electoral results. The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) should be concerned about, say, trends and patterns in voter turnout, ‘spoilt’ ballots, etc. It can not be business as usual when you have 85,795 (2.6%) ‘spoilt’ ballots as was the case with the 2016 elections at national level. By the way, the rejected votes accounted for more than the 74,486 polled by all the seven smaller parties: FDD, PAC, Rainbow, UPP, UNIP, Greens and DA in that descending order.
“With these few opening remarks”, below are some analyses of the Milenge and Ilambo results in a bit of detail, based on the little available data;
Milenge: PF Wins, UPND Makes Marginal Gain
The PF candidate for the Council Chairperson, Fidelis Chanda, won the election by 4,409 votes against 1,237 of the UPND candidate Gibson Malambo. Statistically the PF got 78.09% of the eligible votes compared to 21.9% of the UPND. For the UPND this represents a marginal gain of 1.3% from the 20.6% it got in 2016 compared to the PF’s 79.39%.
Ilambo: UPND Wins and Gains
The UPND won the council or ward seat with 809 (55.98%) of the vote compared to the PF’s 636 (44.02%). In 2016 the PF candidate beat the UPND’s. Unfortunately, there are no data on the 2016 ward results on the ECZ website to enable comparison of the magnitude of the gain for UPND and loss for PF between the two elections.
Two-Horse Race Continues
The two centres – Milenge and Ilambo – remain a battle ground for only the two main parties: PF and UPND. This must be a surprise to many who thought the entry into the ring by Chishimba Kambwili’s NDC and Harry Kalaba’s DP would broaden the basket of options for the voters. Understandably NDC is in a partial electoral alliance with the UPND. Many are asking when Kalaba will ‘test the waters’ (‘Kwipima’).
Apart from the MMD in 1991, all the other post-1991 splinter parties worth their salt had had to launch themselves and gather momentum through bye-elections. The UPND, for instance, boosted its launch in December 1998 by participating in and winning the Mazabuka bye-election within a year, on 30 November 1999, courtesy of its candidate and first MP Griffiths Nang’omba. Similarly, within a few months of formation, the PF participated in the 2001 general election and inspired itself by winning its first seat in Lupoposhi. In recent times the NDC was energised and boosted its image by participating and winning the Roan seat in 2019.
The MMD was unique in that it was a product of a mass uprising to get rid of UNIP after 27 years of single-party rule. So, if Kalaba’s DP wins the 2021 general election without throwing ‘test-punches’, it will grab a lofty place in the annals of history.
Less than 50% Decide Fate:
In Milenge, against 18,466 registered voters, only 5,646 successfully cast their vote, representing only 30.57% of the electoral college. In 2016, at least slightly over half (52.95%) of the registered voters casted their vote and had a say in the selection of the council’s top leadership. The is no doubt voter turnout also dropped in Ilambo, though there are no data. The scourge of low voter turnout mirrors the national picture of 56.45% in the 2016 general election. It should be a cause for concern for the nation.
‘Spoilt’ Ballots on Increase:
The proportion of so-called ‘spoilt’ ballots is another phenomenon that stakeholders ought to but not paying attention to. In Ilambo, for instance, 365 votes were counted as ‘spoilt’, representing 6.46% of the total eligible votes or 6.07% of the total (6,011) votes cast. Arguably 6.07% is too huge to simply gloss over when you consider that the difference between the winning and losing Presidential candidate since 2001 has ranged between 1% and 7%. The exception is 2006 when the difference between Michael Sata and Levy Mwanawasa was 13.61%.
In 2001 Anderson Mazoka lost to Levy Mwanawasa by 1.93%; in 2008 Michael Sata lost to Rupiah Banda by 1.98%; in 2011 Rupiah Banda lost to Michael Sata by 6.56%; in 2015 Hakainde Hichilema lost to Edgar Lungu by 1.68% and by 2.7% in 2016.
So, the electoral players better start paying attention and find remediation to ‘spoilt’ ballots. They could be the difference one way or the other.
The Author is a Media and Communication Scholar, Research Fellow and PhD Candidate Based in South Africa.