By Dr. By Mulenga Kaela
Predicting an election outcome, especially in Africa, is a daunting job. Media in advanced countries always try to venture into this territory, by trying to influence or sway the public opinion. Our local independent media, such as The Post, Radio Phoenix and even the public media including Times of Zambia, Daily Mail, ZNBC and others – they too try their luck at the game. But none of these can tell you for sure, as of now, who would be our next Zambia president. Surfing blogs and Diaspora discussion forums, does not produce a definitive answer.
Though reading political moods is a complex business, I will try here, in my own way, to give an insight as to what could be expected in the 2011 Zambian general elections. Could Michael Sata’s (King Cobra) PF – Patriotic Front, become the next ruling party.? My focus and intention in this piece would be to analyze those factors I think would determine change.
In 2001 before President Patrick Levy Mwanawasa (Levy) came to power – there was a political storm, when we saw MMD almost being thrown out of office by late Anderson Mazoka’s (Andy) UPND. The main issue then was the 3rd Term debacle. Had Andy strategized effectively with other opposition parties – Zambia’s history books would have been different. Then, opposition parties had garnered more then 70% of public votes versus less then 30% for MMD.
Mwanawasa only survived because of the “first-past-the-post rule” (FPP) – meaning that the highest polling candidate carries the day.
It is in fact this contentious clause which has angered many Zambians who would rather prefer selecting a president under a more majoritarian principle of 50% + 1. People feel that electing a president under FPP is not representative enough. Neither is it close to proportional representation.
In both elections of 2006 and 2008 – PF did well. In 2006, its 46 MPs compared fairly with MMDs 75. And in 2008, Sata’s 38% popular vote fell short of Pres Rupiah Banda’s 41% – while UPND and other parties got 21%. As you can see, PF and UPND put together got 59% of the popular vote. Thus, if Sata could successfully lead a real coalition of opposition parties, he might then pose a threat to the ruling MMD party. That coalition has to be concrete unlike its predecessor UDA (United Democratic Alliance) formed between UPND, UNIP, FDD, and ULP. Too bad PF/UPND’s pact is not solid. It seems Hakaimbe Hichilema (HH) of UPND has also got his own ambitions of becoming a president.
Therefore, even if the conditions in 2011 will be similar to 2001 — so long as the first-past-the-post rule remains in force, Michael Sata of PF cannot be 100% sure of becoming the next president of Zambia. Like his counterpart Andy, (who nearly beat Mwanawasa then), Sata cannot pull it off – unless he manages to organize opposition coalition. Otherwise this first-past-the-post principle would work in favor of Pres Rupiah Banda (RB).
Moreover, due to the mushrooming of new political parties, a by-product of multipartysm – splitting the vote would make FPP-rule even easier to achieve. Apart from MMD, PF, UNIP, FDD (founded by late Christon Tembo and now led by Edith Nawakwi), Heritage Party (Godfrey Miyanda’s) and Ben Mwila’s Zambia Republican Party – you have NDF (National Democratic Focus) and Sakwiba Sikota’s United Liberal Party (ULP).
Other newer parties include – re-elected MP for LUENA Charles Milupi’s Alliance for Democracy & Development (ADD); Fredrick Mutesa’s Zambians for Empowerment & Development (ZED); and the newest – Elias Chipimo Jnr’s National Restoration Party (NAREP), whose catchy vision phrase is: “to see and strive for an equitable and prosperous Zambia”.
In Zambia today, you cannot pinpoint on one single group as the driving force. It is not the women, not the youth or university students. Even Madalas are not unanimous these days. MMD is relying on cadres as a mobilizing force. What is PF’s base? In 1991, Frederick Chiluba (FTJ) was at least lucky because of the wind of change blowing across the Eastern Block.
What is the basis of my speculation – that PF may yet lose again? The first extrapolation we can get, besides looking at a similar picture we got in 2006 and 2008 – is from the recently held by elections in Chilanga and Mpulungu. Although everyone knows pretty well that the electoral system is somehow broken – I was surprised when PF, because they didn’t like the results in Mpulungu, they protested and even threatened to petition. Basically they cried foul by claiming that votes were either stolen or rigged by MMD. We are familiar with this.
In 2008, moved by his early lead in votes – Sata cried fraud and at first even refused to recognize Banda’s victory.
If ECZ tallying of ballots can’t work in their favor, what PF and other opposition parties should then do is to accept old results as a challenge for doing better the next time round. They should know that there is no other remedy other than winning the elections handily – landslide way, so to speak. That is how Chiluba in 1991 MMD won the battle against UNIP. Otherwise, UNIP would have manipulated the results had the results been close. PF must be prepared to go thru the same or similar litmus paper.
One of the things PF’s political strategists and tacticians should work on – is the message itself. Simply doing things in Sata’s way got them only one seat in 2001. In 2006, Sata’s anti-Chinese rant coupled with pro-poor policies – that is promising better/more jobs and housing, didn’t work. PF run against Levy’s economic policies, which brought undoubtedly sustained growth and low inflation in Zambia. This same message (acting as champion of the poor), was recast in 2008 when Sata ran against Banda, yet it still didn’t make him win.
During the 2008 campaign everyone remembers when Sata bellowed that – “if he wins, he would scrub the country and wash it”. Rupiah Banda’s simple message was – to continue with Mwanawasa’s program. He won! Therefore in 2011, to win PF must recast a simpler and stronger message. If their slogan will concern corruption and poverty – that message must illustrate HOW PF would eliminate or solve those problems.
If it would be safeguarding national assets, again PF must articulate how it intends to do that without sacrificing economic development. That its investment plans – can boost the development of our resources, build factories, create jobs, bring tax revenues and royalties – all for the sake of improving the lives of ordinary people. It must explain to the people the confusion between direct foreign investments and foreign takeover – the later being an early stage of recolonization triggered by love for fast buck by elites. [Who exchange bribes with concessions – a voluntary mortgaging of the country of sorts]. In other words, someone in PF must figure out – how to convert Sata’s populism into votes; a message on how to reduce obscene income inequality; and explain to masses that those high poverty levels, in the long run – leads to dangerous societal consequences.
That is, Sata needs a thinker who can put a finger on what it is, that can propel the party to a clear cut election victory. Something to make the party win more constituencies than competitors, can only happen if there is a movement behind it. Hence, PF needs a message which can resonate with the people that – it is the party which can succeed in making every Zambian eat part of the economic cake.
That is, if PF wants to avoid being cheated by the ruling party, they have to go out and organize the grassroots in all areas of Zambia so that people can rally behind its candidate. And make sure that they win the majority of seats. Victories must be clear. Well in advance, PF must also be aware that normally, courts in Africa throw out allegations of rigging and electoral misconduct. In Zambia, we should be able to learn from our history that – late Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe (SMK), Dean Mung’omba, Andy Mazoka and Sata himself, have protested but with no positive fruits. Attempts to arouse communal and anti-government sentiments do not in our country yield anything. Because they love peace, somehow, Zambians tend to be hesitant.
As I suspect they may be doing — opposition cannot rely on the assessment of the pundits, armchair critics, or aggrieved personalities like George Mpombo or Ng’andu Magande. These peoples’ sentiments could be misleading. It is also inaccurate and rather early to say, for example, that MMD is out and finished. It is like counting chickens before they are hatched. First, we must remember that they are still in power, with all the advantages which come with incumbency. And above all, looking at a general picture – even if PF and its partner UPND seems to be picking up momentum, the popular support for either PF or UPND is NOT national. Each of these parties passes only as being regional in nature.
Further, it is useful to recall that all the parties, which have ruled Zambia so far — first UNIP and then MMD after that, they have had a minimum of at least two characteristics. The first, being that the party must enjoy support from the Copper Belt and Lusaka. And secondly, it must possess a national base. A weak third factor is that, Bembas (in N. Province & Luapula) on one hand, and Easterners (generically referred to as Ngonis or Nyanja) on the other – have to be perceived to be supporting the same political party. This perception or cooperation goes all the way back to the pre-independence struggles. Other tribes fall in between.
While PF seems to have strong support on the Copper Belt & Lusaka, its support in N. Province, Luapula and Eastern Province is not guaranteed. For 2011, Rupiah Banda (RB) has already started telling Easterners not to lose the presidency. In Luapula, Sata will have to fight against the Chiluba factor. For whatever reason, FTJ seems to be on the side of Banda, and naturally will have to campaign (if that is permissible) for him. Already PF has to battle for seats held by the rebel MPs such as Peter Machungwa. These are substantial obstacles which need to be considered seriously by PF.
Moreover, N. Province is not either in the bag for PF primarily because of: Mbala Mafia factor, Mambwe-Namwanga group versus Bemba proper. Since these groups are not unanimously supporting PF, there is danger of losing some votes in the province, to MMD. In other words, Sata’s name or Ubwato even in his home province, is not automatic. Some resistance to it still exists. And I think only Senior Chief Mwamba – of the Bemba people, is openly pro-PF, because I gather that Paramount Chief Chitimukulu is for MMD and the government. Therefore in sum, even PF’s N. Province support, is at best, still weak.
In addition, when you examine PF’s position elsewhere in the country – the picture is not any better. In S. Province, UPND clearly dominates. In W. Province, unless PF strategizes with Charles Milupi’s party (ADD) – UPND stands a better chance to compete against MMD. That leaves NW. Province, where I think the battle will be between MMD and UPND. Not to forget about VP George Kunda’s factor when it comes to Central Province.
Put all these together, unless there will be a wind of change, stronger than now blowing in favor of PF, the only way Sata can become our next president still, seems to be narrow. That does not mean that this picture cannot be changed in due course through hard organizational work. Thus, PF if it wants to win can still consolidate its support by massively organizing the grassroots – constituency by constituency. They need to raise vote numbers where they polled low in 2008. The only other alternative to that might be sheer good luck.
However, there are other factors which can have a significant play into this equation. If Zambians were to vote using facts and personal profiles of the two leaders – Sata versus Banda, here is what might emerge. Here, I assume that Zambians get sufficient information about each candidate.
First, in terms of fighting against corruption, or ability and the management style – Sata would be preferable by Zambians. Many people still remember how Sata cleaned up Lusaka when he was a Governor in the Kaunda days. And there are those who think that the Ministry of Health was run well when he (Sata) was its Minister. Drugs were plentiful in hospitals and the Ministry officials could not steal billions of Kwacha without anyone noticing.
Thus, because of this good record, Sata can easily capitalize on it to earn more votes. Moreover, if Sata was to campaign on the motto “of creating more jobs and putting more money in peoples’ pockets“, his message might be believable. After all, reducing poverty translates into putting money in pocket books. But the strange thing is that – Zambians have not responded positively to that message. Sata used it against Mwanawasa in 2006 and yet again in 2008 for Banda, without success.
This means that, if PF sticks to its message of – improving the welfare and lives of the ordinary people, it may still backfire. Can therefore, PF come up with another message which sells to the people? The important point to make is that, people need to feel that they are also eating part of the economic cake.
While King Cobra is prudent and known for his pragmatism and shrewdness in grassroots contacts, unfortunately, he is NOT the best of democrats. He tends to be dictatorial and that perhaps helps to explain why he has failed to call for a PF national convention. This is another big sticking point against him.
As MMD Secretary General, Sata is also linked to the failed Chiluba’s 3rd Term attempt. He loses points again on that score. On the other hand, when it comes to RB’s resume – apart from his weakness on corruption, Banda is undoubtedly a seasoned diplomat. On that score, he is therefore a more internationally recognizable figure than Sata. Naturally that would make him (RB) a better negotiator. But at his point in time, Zambia needs a strong leader because China and other foreign countries are busy trying to find ways of short changing us. Who would then be our best leader?
If Banda is a better negotiator, it also follows that he is probably more subject to manipulation (therefore weaker). China which is fighting hard to increase its influence in the Zambian affairs, would love a man they can talk to and manipulate. Since Sata is incorrigible in some sense, we can therefore conclude that Sata might be a better guy in safeguarding Zambia’s interests and national affairs. And if this perception is shared by many, it is yet another plus for Sata. Can he capitalize on it?
That is although Sata may not be a strategist in the true sense of the word – he may just be perfect for the Zambian situation. This is assuming of course, that he fights off RB’s abilities to strategize with other players. Mind you Banda has already proved that, given chance, he can operate. During Mwanawasa’s death, he has shown that he could take advantage of Levy’s death and policies to advance his own agenda. This is what Mpombo calls – ‘plagiarism’.
There is also another clear departure between RB and Sata. While Sata has a limited ability to listen and get advice, Banda is slightly more open. He is a leader not afraid to delegate powers to subordinates. Does Sata possess that quality? Your guess is as good as mine.
Therefore, as I see it, unless PF and its supporters can make a complete examination of their chances in 2011, and take measures to improve where they can – it (their chance of scooping 2011) will once more slip out of their hand. I am not a doomsayer, but this is a message which everyone is afraid to tell Mr. Michael Sata. He needs to hear this message before it is again too late. Cheers!!