By Sean Tembo – PeP President
1. For the past 4 years or so, we have been feverishly talking about 2021 general elections. But now that we are here in 2021, we are talking about 12th August. We are now remaining with 8 months to the day of the polls, about 6 months to nominations and only about 4 months to dissolution of Parliament. Speaking for ourselves at the Patriots for Economic Progress (PeP), we are ready for the election season and cannot wait for 12th August so that we can ascertain the graciousness of the voters towards what we stand for as a Party. However, we are aware that there are millions of citizens out there who are apprehensive about this election season for fear that it might be chaotic or even degenerate into open conflict between political parties. Hence the question; how chaotic can it possibly be?
2. My view is that the road to 12th August can be as chaotic as we allow it to be. When l say “we”, l mean us the political leaders. This is because our supporters do what we tell them to do. So if we set our supporters on a path of conflict and chaos, that is exactly what they will do. It is therefore up to us as political leaders to guide our supporters accordingly and ensure that chaos and conflict is avoided at all costs. But that is no easy task, largely because some political leaders’ conduct is inherent with chaos and conflict, while some political leaders actually thrive on conflict and chaos as a source of public sympathy because their candidature is based on playing victim.
3. For example, the upcoming PF convention is likely to be a major source of conflict and chaos, and so will be their adoption process. From my point of view, Mr Lungu’s desire to hound out KBF from the PF simply because he announced plans to challenge him at the convention has actually made the man very popular and a lot of heavyweights in the party are now leaning towards him. Of course l do not think he can unseat Mr Lungu at the convention, but he will significantly tear the PF apart. Whatever will be left of the PF will be further torn apart by the adoption process. A lot of PF members had assumed that Bill 10 will go through and that there will be delimitation of constituencies, hence they had positioned themselves for chunks of constituencies which have not materialized. The end result is that you have a huge number of aspirants and very few constituencies to aspire for, plus most of the incumbent MPs still want to recontest their seats. Most of these aspirants have been on the ground doing mobilization for the past 4 years and they are likely to go through if they stood on any political party or as independents. Any miscalculation on the part of the PF to adopt an unpopular candidate will result in them losing the seat, just like in 2016 when we had an unprecedented number of independent MPs mostly in PF strongholds. All these events have the potential for great conflict and chaos between now and 12th August of this year.
4. But perhaps the greatest potential source of conflict is the planned petitioning of Mr Lungu’s candidature by the UPND and their affiliated activists such as Mr John Sangwa – State Counsel. I have previously stated my opinions on this matter, but given that we are now in 2021 and a few months before the general election, allow me to restate. You see, petitioning Mr Lungu’s candidature may appear like a brilliant idea in the eyes of Mr Lungu’s foes, but trust me, it is a bad idea in more ways than one. For starters, the judgement of the ConCourt in the Dan Pule case is very loud and clear; that the 1 year 8 months that Mr Lungu served as President from 2015 to 2016 does not amount to a term as defined in the constitution. That was the ruling of the Court. You may agree with the ruling or you may not agree, but the bottom line is that it is the ruling of the Court. I’ve noted the shallow arguments that have been advanced by people like John Sangwa and MacDonald Chipenzi to their gullible blind followers, that the Constitutional Court only ruled on the fact that Mr Lungu’s initial 1 year 8 months at the presidency did not amount to a term of office as provided for by the Constitution and not whether he is eligible to stand again this year. It is a matter of common sense really that if Mr Lungu has only served for one term of office as ruled by the Court, then he is eligible for a second term. The Court did not really have to expressly state that in its ruling. It is like two boxers are fighting in the ring and at the end of the match, the referee declares boxer A as the winner and says nothing about boxer B. It does not make sense for boxer B to argue that he did not lose the fight because the referee did not expressly declare him as a loser! That’s the quality of argument that Sangwa and Chipenzi are making.
5. But someone might argue to say why not try to petition Mr Lungu, and if it fails it fails? Well, if the UPND affiliated activists like John Sangwa decided to proceed to petition the candidature of Mr Lungu after filing his nomination, what will happen is that the petition will be thrown out faster than quickly, with costs. But it will not end there, the PF will obviously retaliate by also petitioning the candidature of Mr Hichilema, for whatever flimsy reason. The only difference is that whereas the petition against Mr Lungu will be dealt with expeditiously, the one against Mr Hichilema will not. That is politics 101. At the end of the day, the UPND is likely to find themselves without a presidential candidate barely weeks before the polling day. This will cause panic, chaos and conflict. And there is really no sure way of compelling a Court to expeditiously adjudicate on a matter. Reminds me of the former Heritage Party President General Godfrey Miyanda, who at one time grew frustrated with the failure of the High Court to release a judgement and decided to sue the Court. Suffice to say that he lost.
6. Therefore, by seeking to petition Mr Lungu’s candidature on flimsy grounds, the UPND and its army of activists may be digging a hole for themselves. You see, political manoevres are largely based public morality. What the general public may find acceptable. Therefore, the public may not find it acceptable for the PF to just wake up one morning and decide to petition the candidature of Mr Hichilema and then have a protracted hearing while his candidature hangs in the balance. However, the public would probably find it acceptable if the UPND are the aggressors themselves and start with petitioning the candidature of Mr Lungu and in retaliation the PF also petition the candidature of Mr Hichilema. Even if the petition against Mr Lungu is quickly dismissed while that against Mr Hichilema drags on forever. People will simply say that he is getting a taste of his own medicine.
7. Additionally, the UPND should not deceive themselves that they can get a semblance of justice from the Constitutional Court when it is a matter involving President Lungu. The Court remains strongly pro-Lungu and pro-PF. It is naive for the UPND to think that the Constitutional Court can rule against Mr Lungu’s candidature. There is no chance whatsoever. And l say this from my experience when l was personally prosecuting the eSwatini land case against President Lungu way back in 2018. I faced more hostility from the Constitutional Court that l did from the lawyers defending the President. The UPND should not be misled by the ConCourt judgement for Ministers to pay back the money. It is mere grandstanding.