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Alba Iulia
Thursday, September 16, 2021

Will PF Disappear the Way of UNIP and MMD?

Columns Will PF Disappear the Way of UNIP and MMD?

By Parkie Mbozi

THE Patriotic Front (PF) was kicked out of power by the opposition during the 2021 general election, much the say as two other former ruling parties. First it the United Party National Independence Party (UNIP), which lost to the then newly formed Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in 1991. After twenty years in power, the MMD also ceded power to the PF, which had been in existence for 10 years at the time.

The PF has made its own history thus far for the shortest period in power, 10 years. This contrasts with UNIP which ruled for 27 years, notwithstanding that it had only the frog on the ticket against Kenneth Kaunda for about 18 years since the abolishment of multiparty politics and introduction of the sole-called one party-participatory democracy in 1973. The MMD ruled for two decades (twenty years) amid political competition from the newly-crowned king of the jungle, the United Party for National Development (UPND), and the PF itself. Both UNIP and MMD are now mere boardroom, if not nashala neka (‘I am left alone’) parties, with no real impact and diminishing popularity. If one wants to be sarcastic he would call them mere NGOs (Nothing Goes Ons).

The question is, will PF make history again, positive this time, as the first former ruling party to bounce back to power? Or will it submit to the historical reality and follow the footsteps of UNIP and MMD? Time will tell, not doubt. I present arguments for both scenarios.

The leaders of UNIP and MMD have been too stubborn to accept the reality that their parties are finished for good. Just as with the previous elections, the results of the just-ended elections vividly prove the point that it is finished for these two parties. But guess what, their leaders will attempt another election just to remain relevant to the political scene. It is alleged that they keep putting their names on the ballot just to benefit from donor funding, but I have not hard facts to prove this point. Maybe you do?

UNIP is Zambia’s oldest surviving political party. I say surviving because the oldest political party in the history of this country was the Africa National Congress (ANC), which closed shop after the signing of the unity accord in 1972. The accord heralded the one-party participatory ‘democracy’. UNIP is also the oldest existing opposition party and, until he was kicked out before the last election, Tilyengi was the longest serving opposition leader, having been at the helm since 2001, following the death of Francis Nkoma.

UNIP governed the country from 1964 to 1991 and Kaunda had been at its helm since its founding in 1960. It ceded power in 1991 to the MMD, whose candidate Chiluba polled whooping 76% to Kaunda’s 24%. The MMD won 125 of the 150 elected seats in the National Assembly. Eighteen of UNIP’s 25 were in the Eastern Province where UNIP retained all the seats. The result effectively consigned UNIP as a regional party and reconfirmed the Eastern province as the most conservative, having done the same in 1963.
Kaunda stepped down as President of the party in 1992, following the party’s famous Namayani congress during which Kebby Sililo Kambu Musokotwane was elected President of the party, with Kaunda’s support. In 1993 Musokotwane and Kaunda differed after the former admitted that a radical faction of the party was conspiring to topple the new government of Chiluba. Kaunda and UNIP viewed this as a betrayal of the party and its ‘comrades’. For the next two years Musokotwane led a shaky and divided UNIP such that when Kaunda announced plans for a political comeback, Musokotwane was shunned by Kaunda’s loyalists and party elders. He was forced to step down in 1993 as Kaunda retook the leadership with Chief Inyambo Yeta as his vice, when the logical thing would have been for him support another young leader.

Kaunda was hoping to bounce back to power during the 1996 election. However, ‘political engineer’ Chiluba used MMD’s overwhelming majority in parliament, in May 1996, to push through controversial constitutional amendments, specifically the parentage clause. This technically knocked Kaunda, whose parents hailed from Nyasaland (Malawi), out of the race. Yeta was equally barred by the traditional leaders’ clause. As a result, UNIP boycotted the elections, allowing Chiluba to be easily re-elected with 73% of the vote. This was a tactical miscalculation on UNIP’s part as it allowed MMD, which did not win a single seat in the Eastern province in 1991, to enter its ‘bedroom’ unchallenged.

As Elias Munshya writes, “With the loss of that Eastern region came the rapid fall of a party that once led Zambia into independence. Ironically, the same man who built UNIP to its climax in the 1960s also presided over its downfall in the 1990s. With that 1996 boycott, Kenneth Kaunda hammered the last nail in UNIP’s coffin.”

The party returned to contest the 2001 elections with Tilyenji as its presidential candidate; he received only 10% of the vote, finishing fourth out of the eleven candidates. In the National Assembly the party won 13 seats, majority in the Eastern Province, and 10.6% of the popular vote. That was the last time it ever had seats in Parliament as a single entity. Prior to the 2006 elections the party joined the United Democratic Alliance alongside the other two largest opposition parties, FDD and UPND. Hakainde Hichilema of the UPND was the alliance’s presidential candidate, finishing third with 25% of the vote. The alliance won just 26 seats in the National Assembly. The vast majority were contributed by UPND, with UNIP contributing only Mkhondo Lungu of Lundazi.

Tilyenji and UNIP did not contest the 2008 presidential by-election, but he was nominated as UNIP’s presidential candidate for the 2011 elections. Since then Tilyenji has contested the republican presidency three times (2011, 2015 and 2016) but each time losing miserably with less than 1% of the total vote (0.36% in 2011; 0.58% in 2015; and 0.24% (8,928 votes) in 2016). In both 2011 and 2016 UNIP failed to win a single seat in the National Assembly nor council seat anywhere across the country. Come 2021 its candidate, Mwamba Musonda, managed only 3,036 out the available 4,959,332 votes. What a shame!

With these dwindling fortunes, UNIP is technically dead. What is worse the party does not seem to be in politics for the business of politics. Analysts have argued that UNIP exists simply for the sake of its business interests that its leaders hold under Zambia National Holdings Limited. That explains the current court wrangles between 11 members and four of Tilyenji’s cohorts over lack of intraparty elections since 2005 and alleged sale of named party assets without membership approvals.
The story is the same with MMD. Its candidate for the election MUMBA Nevers Mumba, a former Republican Veep, could only harvest 4,968 votes, yes you heard me right, less than 5000 from the whole republic during the last election. The MMD failed to field a presidential candidate in 2016 due to internal squabbles. However the first time they did since losing party to PF in 2011, Mumba only managed 14,609 of the available 1,671,662 votes.

MMD’s representation in parliament and councils has also been dwindling since 2004 when it last won a general election. Whereas it had 75 seats in 2006, the figure went down to 55 in 2011, three in 2016 and zero (0) in 2021. Although the full results at council level are yet to be publicized, it is plausible to guess that MMD has zero nationwide. In short, MMD is as technically dead as UNIP.

The question of the day is, will PF wither the same way? The answer, in my view, is neither here nor there. Our guesses can be based on two scenarios: 1. the mentality of Zambian voters generally based o history; and, on the positive side for PF; 2. How the party handles its leadership transition. We can use the experience of UNIP and MMD on the later point to weave a may give hope to the PF.

On the negative side, history is not on PF’s side. The experience of the other two former parties, as articulated already, spells bad news for the PF. The reality is before us. What is not with us is reasons why former parties go into oblivion one theory, in my view, lies with voter behaviour. Could it be that Zambians by nature always want something new? Zambian revelers, for instance, migrate from one new pub to the next. In short they are migratory. Could that factor in itself have an influence on their voting patterns? If that is the case then that’s it for PF. It will join the queue of UNIP and MMD.

On the other hand, and potential positive point for PF, there are some controllable factors that UNIP and MMD didn’t manage well which the PF can control and avoid disintegration. One of them is transition from and leadership change. Both UNIP and MMD were bedeviled by post-election leadership squabbles that resulted in the party being torn apart. I have alluded to how the Kaunda-Musokotwane fights divided and tore down UNIP> Similarly the Rupiah Banda Vs. Nevers Mumba and Felix Mutati Vs. Mumba squabbles led to the split of MMD into two halves: one heading to UPND and the other to PF.

The other two external factors that might have a bearing on the resurgence or otherwise of PF is the performance of the UPND in government and evolution and growth of the other opposition parties. If UNPD underperforms and an alternative and viable third force among the opposition parties emerges, it would spell doom for PF. During the reigns of MMD and PF there was always an emerging alternative party. With 63 MPs and a none-existent third force, PF will for now remain the only alternative.

The other question is whether the PF’s legacy of infrastructure development might save them? MMD opened the economy and were the first to bring about decency in the transport sector and retail markets (modern malls and supermarkets). They could boast of having brought back multiparty democracy and brought down the mighty (waikatako wapya) UNIP. However, all these achievements didn’t save them.

To conclude, the key fundamentals do not favour a PF comeback nor mere survival. Only time will tell if it will turn the tide and re-script the political history of the country. Good luck!

The author is a researcher and scholar with the Institute of Economic and Social Research, University of Zambia. He is reachable on [email protected]


  1. PF was a criminal enterprise. It has no chance of survival unless the PF thugs find another way of sponsoring the beast. Like every criminal enterprise, once it’s leader & the source of the contraband are cut off, it dies a natural death.

  2. Parties die once they lose power because there’s no ideology to talk of. As soon as the PF lost the election, Hamukale, Doors Siliya and others resigned from the party. People with ideology or something to believe in can not abandon their no matter what. Like the USA Republican members are totally against abortion and you can’t convinced otherwise. Here it’s follow who is holding the national purse.

  3. PF’s chance of bouncing back is very high. If voting was repeated today, already PF would get better votes than they did on 12th August. Why? The teasing of others by people from certain regions, and realization that campaign promises were lies. Some expected prices to drop as promised, free education, stronger Kwacha etc. Carders removal alone is not adequate. People was to see continued development.

  4. I truly hope the PF goes the same route as MMD etc. And since the failed leaders – CK, GBM, GL, DM, KZ etc – refuse to move over, I think PF will die very soon!

  5. PF survived on racketeering, bribes , extortion and looting of GRZ resources…….

    The tax payers bill for GRZ resources PF used will dry them out……already mwila is dancing ndendaule over musician monies…

    The bemba supremacist groups may try to regroup , but good governance by HEHH will blunt them………

    This is where William banda Plus RBs influence over the East will go a long way, because lungu does not count in the east…..he can even be taken to court to explain his $2.3 million after 18 months in office…….

  6. Yesterday I listened to Lubinda interview which allowed me to make an opinion about him as a leader, I am not convinced, he can be a bull-dozer for PF, to bring them to where they were before August 12th.

  7. PF is gone. No one will trust these PF criminals. Besides after one year the entire PF leadership will be wearing orange overalls if we are serious about fighting corruption and stealing Tax payer monies

  8. If they didn’t steal Mazoka’s win, MMD would have also done only 10 years. Come to think of it, Mwanawasa and Banda’s MMD was another MMD for 10 years. So it’s a decade each for everyone..

  9. This is a very well written and balanced out article. I have been reading some biased write-ups recently but this one scores and is very educative to the sound minded person and not for all those that are closed up and want to rubbish pf’s comeback or the chance of Upnd continuing. This is not their article. Let them loom for biased articles that fit in their minds.
    For me, my opinion is that Pf has a very big chance of bouncing back to power should they play their cards right. We are all aware that Upnd might take the IMF route (austerity) which may eventually make them fail to fulfill most of their campaign promises during their first term, a premise on which they were employed by the Zambians. Remember there where 16 job seekers and Zambians chose Upnd because of what they offered…

  10. Weakening the opposition has been the strategy since the advent of multi party. FTJ did everything to destroy Unip. And the MMD the MMD under new a new president succeeded in dismantling the next strongest parties HP and FDD
    . The trend continued in the PF reign. It may continue even now should the ruling party feel threatened.

    Are you aware that they are countries like Ghana who took the IMP programme just before the coronavirus pandemic and are doing far much better than Zambia.
    This mirth that the IMF programme of the 1990s is the same as today is simply a lie. PF was going to take the IMF programme also with no choice. The is a Eurobond of $750m which is maturing in a few months. Tell me how you are going to pay that with out IMF money?

  12. The reality is that PF or UPND the IMF is simply the only solution to current Zambians debt problem unless you can cut a Cheque for $750m to pay the Eurobond you got with nothing much to show for it

  13. MMD has come back to a certain extent and has the potential if they ditch the current leader. These zero votes leaders need to be forced out so that these parties could have a replenishment of fresh blood.

  14. UNIP and MMD were better, PF was pathetic and for the following reasons, use of police to stifle democracy with opposition never allowed to assemble even before covid, grounding of the economy even before Covid, blatant tribalism with permanent secretaries and other government officers coming from two provinces, bribing citizens with crumbs called empowernment, blacklisting all opposition parties from public media especially ZNBC TV, and a very arrogant media directorate at their party secretariat. UPND, with a very un presidential Presdent who did not know which functions were partisan or national and flashing the feeble PF Party symbol at all occasions, DMMU abused and delivering food to bye elections areas ,UPND please learn something from this

  15. It can only die if leaders start jostling for the top position. Sh!+ centers on selfishness.
    You mention UNIP, who killed it? Visionless Tilyenji who thought that because KK was his father. The charisma of his father was in him. Was that true? Wala!
    You mentioned MMD, who killed it?
    Visionless Nevers Mumba who thought that the charisma of the forerunners was in him. Was this true? Wala!
    You know the crocs that eyed PF top position in the past. Vision, Focus and Resilience coupled with rebranding and countering ruling party threat.
    Bam! You got it.

  16. If the pf rebrand it’s leadership and avoid political langles as opposed to fighting for positions but just do some introspection in order to find out reasons that caused their downfall, the possibility of turning back is sure.

  17. If PF ever survives this one, I will be as surprised as Hichilema was when he won his presidency last month. He didn’t expect it so, and I din not expect too to live until 2027.

  18. There’s a day of feasting and a day of famine
    Day of sadness and a day of joy
    You couldn’t  see in the day of feasting
    That life isn’t just a little play-like toy

    So your day arrived when you least expected
    ‘Cause you always thought you were well protected
    Now you feel like a fish out of water
    So now you’re wondering what’s the matter

    Oh remember you said it wouldn’t happen to you
    Now you’re thinking how to start a new
    A drowning man will catch at a straw
    You were warned but you wouldn’t take heed

  19. Forget PF, they are gone n will never rise again….. the name PF brings back memories of gassing, corruption, banditry n so many ills that can go wrong in society. PF belongs in the Jail.

  20. PF will be there as long as PF is at the helm. VP Kambwili for party mobilization including Nakachinda. Hopefully SET can partner with the PF then Wenye master party one term.

  21. Tongas are teasing other tribes very bad. Have you sat near a Tonga and hear them talk. For me this victory is for all Zambias because every Province gave HH better results than before.

  22. # 30 you are seriously ill and i can guess where you hail from,,, i doubt your argument is about teasing, i think you are just one of them pf propagandist who who was tasked to spread false information about hh and now you cant take it that he is where he is now…
    but for the sake of unity please stop mentioning tribe everyone is proud of where they come from …
    It was unfair if you look back at how one tonga guy in hh who was perceived as a danger to the pfs continued stay in power vilified the entire tribe .


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