By Chimwemwe Mwanza
Attack is the best of form of defence. It’s a tactic that the late PF founding leader Micheal Sata often adopted when his back was against the wall, and it seemed to work. Thanks in part to his brand of populist politics, he was at his best when on the offensive.
After serving the MMD from its inception, he was overlooked for the Presidency prompting him to turn against the late Frederick Chiluba – once his closest political ally. It is worth recalling that it’s Sata that selfishly championed Chiluba’s ill-fated but divisive third – term bid yet king cobra deftly managed to extricate himself from a tarnished MMD to establish the PF.
It appears that PF Presidential aspirant Given Lubinda has borrowed this strategy cut and paste from Sata’s political playbook – albeit with a few tweaks. Granted his party has a ten-year record in office to defend after being tossed out of power, Lubinda has been hard at work battling to deflect the damning findings of a post electoral autopsy of the PF’s governance record. Struggling for relevance in a vastly transformed but new political landscape, he has been on the offensive attacking a two-month-old government for failing to deliver on its promises.
But here is why this strategy is struggling for traction. An electoral defeat like the one recently handed to the PF signifies rejection and by implication Lubinda as part of the PF collective is intrinsically linked to failed leadership. For some in the PF and the electorate at large, their anger is still simmering that Edgar Lungu’s candidature including the rest of the top leadership brass cost them both power and the gravy train.
As the newly appointed Vice President of Zambia’s biggest opposition party, He is almost a shoe in to taking over the reins from the incumbent – who has already made his intentions known that he won’t be seeking re-election at the party’s forthcoming convention. By virtue of proximity and association, it would be fair to suggest that the two leaders are now co-joined and are viewed by the PF grassroot as political Siamese twins – for lack of a better description.
Hence this attack, deceive and deflect strategy. At least he has a plan. As the adage goes, an idiot with a plan can beat a genius without a plan. Who can forget? In 2011, the PF taking advantage of disgruntled Zambians fed up with economic malfeasance under the MMD, pulled a stunning con on the electorate with promises of more money in people’s pockets. For the attack, deceive and deflect plan to work, all that Lubinda has to do is to consistently keep the spotlight on the UPND – this as a ruse to avoiding scrutiny and interrogation for his role in the PF’s poor record of governance.
He is all too aware of the impracticality of the UPND successfully adopting its election promises in under two months in government. However, he is hoping that by repeating and beating the UPND manifesto drum so hard, the noises regarding free education and cheap fertilizer among several of the UPND’s utopian promises will find resonance with struggling families, the youth and possibly the PF faithful.
A career politician with nothing to show for in terms of development for his two-decades as a member of parliament for Kabwata, Lubinda lacks leadership skills, the charisma and oratory cadence critical to galvanising his party’s dejected base – which is still battling to digest the shock August 12 defeat. While the top PF structure has settled for the former Justice Minister as its preferred leader, they know too well that he is not sellable.
In the eyes of true greens, he is not only a liability but has no support base outside the PF’s central committee. And for a party that largely considers the Mpika, Chinsali and Kasama clique as the true greens, Za yellow’s ethnic background counts for nothing – in fact this diminishes his chances.
Never mind the fact that Lungu an easterner is PF President and try as we may to discount the significance of ethnicity in the PF, one can rightly argue that the former ruling party traces its genealogy to Mpika. In fact, where it not for Alexander Chikwanda’s shrewd backroom role in dispatching Wynter Kabimba from the party, Lungu’s ascent to the PF throne could have hit a snag. But with Chikwanda as the kingmaker and helped largely by the bemba clique, Lungu bagged the PF Presidency.
This begs another question, does this clique have any motivation to supporting a Lubinda Presidency? First and foremost, the PF is unlikely to ever bounce back in power at least not in its current state so why would anyone invest their effort, time, and money in supporting a lifeless trojan horse in Lubinda? Put differently, other than financial, is there perhaps another incentive to investing in a party that will serve in opposition trenches for the next five years? Off course there is – this is certainly the view of the PF die hard.
One can forgive them for betting on a resurrection because miracles do happen in politics too. If you dare argue, look east beyond Chipata. After more than two decades out of power, Kamuzu Banda’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP) recently resurrected from its grave with MCP Tonse Alliance leader, Lazarus Chakwera – just like his biblical namesake stunning Peter Mutharika to ascend to the Malawian Presidency.
However, Zambia’s political contour is rugged and any thought that the PF could bounce back to power seems far-fetched. Here is a good reason to back this argument. After losing power, all of Zambia’s former governing political parties including UNIP and the MMD have ended up at a crematorium and it seems that the PF is now on life support awaiting similar fate. Where does this leave Lubinda then?
Those rooting for his candidature are united in the view that he is more pliant to preserving Lungu’s legacy in the PF than other candidates. And this is a big deal in a party that doesn’t require its leader to advance his own vision but that of its founding leader, Sata. Whichever way one looks at this, Lubinda is in a pickle. But first, he has the small matter of the convention to worry about before he can even start thinking about 2026. Crucially, he lacks a critical support base to take on a formidable opponent such as Chishimba Kambwili which is why he is using his countrywide roadshow as a ruse to sell his candidacy.
And don’t be fooled by claims of Kambwili’s unpopularity in the PF central committee, this race will ultimately come down to grassroot support which by and large is a bug bear for Za yellow. In fact, Lubinda is intensely disliked by the grassroot to the extent that his own former constituency officials once organised a mob to lynch him for poor service delivery in Kabwata – his former constituency. If a leader can’t manage a constituency, imagine a party like the PF or a country as complex as Zambia for that matter?
Whatever the PF’s choice, the party can ill-afford to self-destruct after its convention. For once, it should guard against the temptation to rig its convention in favour of a pre-determined outcome because Zambia can’t afford to give the UPND a blank cheque in the form of a weak opposition – not in this era where the ruling party is within striking distance of attaining a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
To be candid, a genuine renewal of the former ruling party will require a complete overhaul of the top leadership structure – if possible, the dissolution of the entire central committee and pack it with new blood. It’s time to look for a youthful and charismatic leader that is not linked to the party’s disastrous ten – year reign in government.
Does Lubinda fit this profile?
About the Author: He is halfway through an interesting best seller titled winning and written by the late Jack Welch – the former CEO of General Motors. He is recommending this book to Miles Sampa who by the way is next in line in the race to the PF Presidency series. For feedback contact: [email protected]