By Isaac Mwanza
The Electoral Commission has maintained voter registration exercise, targeting 9 million eligible voters from the 9,900 polling stations would take place throughout the country and conducted within 30-days. With ECZ targeting a turnout of around 80 percent in 2021, some opposition leaders are fronting a proposal to field one candidate in 2021 to compete against the Patriotic Front (PF) candidate, who undoubtedly will be the incumbent President Lungu. The question is, among the opposition leaders, who can the opposition unanimously accept to lead them into the 2021 battle against President Lungu, and what is the probability of this One-Alliance Presidential Project succeeding?
A Scan of Opposition Parties in Zambia and Their Leaders?
By 2016, Zambia’s main opposition parties who contested the presidential election included the United Party for National Development (UPND), Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD), People’s Alliance for Change (PAC), Rainbow Party, United Progressive Peoples Party (UPP), United National Independence Party (UNIP), Green Party, and the Democratic Assembly (DA). Apart from Mr. Hakainde Hichilema who had 1,760,347 votes, the remaining candidates had a sum total of 74,486 votes which the UPND leader desperately needs in order to close up the 100,530 gap in votes against President Lungu’s 1.8+ million votes.
In 2021, it is more likely the presidential ballot may include three more parties, namely, the Chishimba Kambwili-led National Democratic Congress (NDC), Dr. Fred M’membe’s Socialist Party (SP), the Social-Democratic Patriot for Economic Progress (PeP) led by Mr. Sean Tembo, the Charles Chanda-led United Prosperous and Peaceful Zambia (UPPZ). The Economic and Equity Party President Chilufya Tayali has also said people will be surprised because he will be on the ballot in 2021. Therefore, from 9 presidential candidates in 2016, the Presidential Ballot in 2021 is more likely to have, at least, 14 candidates, if the opposition do not agree on a single candidate.
Currently, the UPND-led alliance, includes James Lukuku of the Republican Progress Party (RPP, a breakaway party from Cosmo Mumba’s National Revolution Party (NRP)) which is essentially a party in name only, and Charles Milupi’s Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD), a party with a small pocket of supporters from Western Zambia. ADD has participated in local government elections in the politically-troubled Western and North Western Provinces where the ruling PF is slowly gaining ground. NDC, itself basically a breakaway party from the ruling PF, is still in nursery and may not be as popular as UPND on the Copperbelt where it has been trying to establish its base.
From the numbers in the 2016 Presidential Election, it appears the FDD and PAC are the only two parties that made it above the 10,000 mark while Rainbow, UPP and UNIP parties are the parties that made it past the 5,000 mark but below 10,000 votes. The arrival of NDC, Socialist Party and the PeP may have a chilling effect on the numbers for most of these opposition parties, but the strength of these parties is not yet known.
The NDC has however participated in two parliamentary by-elections, first in the Roan constituency in Luanshya, where its candidate won the seat with 8,665 votes against the PF who had 5,533 votes. It can be said that the NDC won the Roan seat only because the UPND did not field a candidate. Instead, the UPND threw its weight behind the NDC and actively campaigned for the NDC candidate. This author would suggest that had the UPND put forward its own candidate in the Roan parliamentary by-election, PF would have retained the seat.
This theory is readily borne out when one looks at the subsequent Luapula Ward local government by-election in Kitwe, where UPND came in second, behind PF while NDC came in third, and in the Chilubi constituency parliamentary by-election where, again, the UPND came in second, well ahead of the NDC which only managed a distant third place with 1,308 votes against 4,858 for UPND and 16,653 votes for PF. The NDC was only able to beat the PAC with a slight margin of 292 votes between them.
One would have thought that the NDC leader, Mr. Chishimba Kambwili’s repeated invocations of the late Mr. Michael Sata’s name in Luapula where he was hugely popular, would have swung the by-election in favour of the NDC as intended by Mr. Kambwili. This did not happen; instead, President Edgar Lungu’s one day campaign swing in the constituency, consolidated the PF’s stranglehold and the PF candidate received more votes in the by-election, than at the 2016 general election, a very unusual result which would appear to confirm President Edgar Lungu’s popularity as the new leader of PF after the late Michael Sata.
These remarkable by-election results have continued to surprise pundits in local government by-elections in most parts of the country, where the PF appears to have solidified its popular appeal.
Who Would Be The Best Single Opposition Candidate To Oust The PF?
If history is anything to go by, one would assume that the FDD and UNIP would have learnt their lesson after the failed 2006 United Democratic Alliance (UDA) which fielded Mr. Hakainde Hichilema as its sole candidate in that election, against the ruling MMD’s Levy Mwanawasa as well as Mr. Michael Sata of the opposition PF and Mr. Akashambatwa Mbikusita Lewanika of Agenda for Zambia (AZ) and Mr. Nevers Mumba of the National Christian Coalition (NCC).
On close examination, the UDA alliance appeared to field nothing more than Mr. Hichilema’s political ambitions, as none of the leaders of the alliance partners had much in the way of political stock, while Mr. Hichilema was the virtually unknown but newly-minted leader of the UPND, following the demise of the UPND’s popular founding leader, the late Mr. Anderson Mazoka who had died the previous year, 2005.
Mr. Hichilema had risen out of nowhere to the leadership of the UPND on the back of an acrimonious succession dispute which had seen the other founding members and two Vice Presidents of the UPND, resigning in disgust at the highly tribal or ethnic-centred campaign mounted by Mr. Hichilema’s supporters, who had insisted that the leadership of the UPND could only go to someone of the same tribe as the founding president, the late Mr. Mazoka. Of course, those supporters had the numbers to push their candidate, Mr. Hichilema, to the top.
In terms of the UDA alliance, the UPND was, at the time, the second-largest party in the National Assembly of Zambia and the largest single opposition party in the country, with 42 seats in the House. In 2006, the PF had only 3 MPs in the House but refused to join the UDA alliance confident that it could Marshall the support needed for its candidate, the Michael Sata, to win the Presidency.
Mr. Hichilema was a novice, but with the largest opposition block in parliament and having come very close to winning the presidency in 2001, the UDA reluctantly conceded the presidential candidacy to the UPND leader who had no political credentials, as compared with the FDD’s Edith Nawakwi and UNIP’s Tilyenji Kaunda, son of Zambia’s founding President Kenneth David Kaunda.
In 2021, it is very unlikely that these two parties, FDD and UNIP would, once again, agree to go into a coalition to once again feature the same candidate in the name of Mr. Hakainde Hichilema. As a matter of fact, shortly after the 2006 elections, the UDA partners expressed their dismay at Mr. Hichilema’s attitude and blamed him for the substantial losses which all the UDA alliance parties suffered in the 2006 election.
The UPND lost 23 seats, from 42 down to 19, UNIP from 14 down to 6 and FDD lost 8 of its 11 seats, down to only 3. In the presidential by-election which followed the death of President Levy Mwanawasa in 2008, all the former UDA partners except UPND and UNIP, decided to support the MMD candidate Mr. Rupiah Banda. Ms. Nawakwi, leader of the FDD, vowed never to support Mr. Hichilema again, calling him ungrateful. Rupiah Banda won the 2008 presidential by-election but Mr. Hichilema came in a distant third (with some 503,000 votes) behind Mr. Rupiah Banda (1.1m votes) and Mr. Michael Sata (870,000 votes).
With regard to the current opposition landscape, the PAC has been building its image by participating in elections over time. It is noteworthy that the PAC left the loose “dialogue and reconciliation alliance” due to disagreement with the UPND leader over the way he was handling the process. Mr. Andyford Banda’s and PAC’s support base is largely the many youths who have some form of education and interested in the political dispensation of their country.
The Rainbow Party, a Socialist unit, and the UPP, both seem to understand that the 50% +1 presidential winning threshold offers them an opportunity to negotiate the run-off elections in the event that there is no outright winner in the 2021 first round election.
On the other hand, it is easier to arm-twist the NDC into getting into a single-candidate electoral alliance in which Mr. Hichilema would be that presidential candidate because of the personal circumstances its leader Chishimba Kambwili has found himself in in terms of the several court cases against him. However, Mr. Kambwili and some of the strategists within his party do understand that if NDC participated at presidential level in 2021 and came third, that would give the NDC the leverage to negotiate better with UPND than if its numbers are not known.
As it stands now, NDC is in a very weak position to negotiate with the UPND, firstly, because it doesn’t have real numbers to show apart from a seat in Roan and, secondly, because of the personal situation its leader finds himself in. Mr. Kambwili has no option but to sing the same song with Mr. Hichilema on the question of an electoral alliance single candidate, including taking up an offer for a running mate, even though Kambwili and HH don’t share same philosophical ideals.
Dr. Fred M’membe of the Socialist Party and Mr. Sean Tembo of the Patriots for Economic Progress (PeP), should also be followed closely without being dismissive of the effect they may have on the 2021 elections. The Socialist Party and PeP can easily be noticed on the political scene ahead of 2021. Despite any prosecution Dr. M’membe may face, history has shown he is one person who cannot easily be arm-twisted. Over time, Dr. M’membe has been tested under both MMD and PF, and has demonstrated that he has learnt to fight his own battles – losing some and winning others.
Mr. Sean Tembo of PeP has also been working quietly, out of sight mostly, to build his party membership. By 17th May, 2020, the PeP reportedly reached 500,000 registered members and appears to have a strong base in urban and peri-urban areas of Lusaka Province. What is yet to be seen is, whether these numbers will translate into a half million votes for PeP in the 2021 elections, or if the numbers are just on paper.
A Choice between Capitalist Mr. Hichilema and Socialist Leaders
The most important question which Dr. Fred M’membe raised during one Assignment Programme on Muvi TV is: in choosing a single candidate for the 2021 opposition candidate, which ideology will be followed in case one wins the 2021 election on the opposition ticket? Dr. M’membe was crystal clear that his Socialist Party does not believe in giving the mines to Anglo-American if the PF are ousted from power, which the capitalists would find easy to do. But for other parties without any discernible ideologies, these are easier to co-opt into the One-Opposition Project whose leader will, without doubt, be Hakainde Hichilema, the capitalist.
Capitalism, as we all know it, does not believe in fairness but exploitation for profits. Capitalism would do anything to profit from any situation. Now we are witnessing what may be termed as “political capitalism” on the rise in Zambia. The whole idea is how to profit with votes from any bad situation on the ground.
When the youth appear to be calling for a stake in gold mines, capitalist politicians simply jump onto the band wagon promising to fulfil the wishes of the youths, not because they believe the call to be valid, but purely for the sake of obtaining the youth vote, because they know that most of these youths have no capacity to run the mines. Still, the politicians give false hope to these youths, claiming that they have solutions to the issue of our mines.
Our capitalists in Zambia will always see an opportunity to join poor citizens who complain about the living standards or the gap between the rich and the poor, appearing to have a solution. But it is only true that these capitalists will run to fellow capitalists in the rich countries to discuss debt, which no doubt will be used by rich country capitalists to take advantage of Zambia’s mineral wealth for their own benefit. Those external capitalists won’t come to Zambia to pay off the debt, but to use it as a lever to force Zambia to hand over its mineral wealth to them.
Dr. Fred M’membe and his Socialist Party, or Mr. Wynter Kabimba and his Rainbow Party will not easily fall for such arm-twisting tactics by capitalists to sing the common song of single candidate whose ideology they don’t believe in. The opposite would be true of the UPND leader, Mr. Hichilema; it is unlikely that he would accept someone like M’membe or Kabimba to lead the single candidate alliance and later pursue the agenda of socialism. Their capitalist financiers would most certainly abandon them.
In short, the call for a single opposition candidate of convenience lacks any strong foundation at all. But the interesting aspect is that once the single candidate, who most likely is seen as Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, loses 2021 to Edgar Lungu, these political parties will not easily recover for 2026.
The single 2021 opposition candidate, meant to once again feature Hakainde Hichilema, is birthed on the idea of pushing the PF out of power in 2021. The opposition parties have a right to form these alliances. However, when the socialists, capitalists, communist or social-capitalists form an Alliance, expect confusion when such a grouping is given power. Those who learnt from the failure of the UDA and loss of direction by the parties which were involved in that Alliance will approach this idea with caution. Sata never believed that he would rule Zambia because of an Alliance although he was the biggest beneficiary when the UPND-PF Pact crumbled at the late hour. Sata’s 10 years in opposition to becoming President of the Republic of Zambia was done on the basis of understanding the political terrain coupled with boldness, courage, tact and assembling local teams and not international image builders who understand nothing of our local politics as they happen in villages.