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Zambia goes to the polls amid democratic backsliding

11 Aug 2016 at 08:50hrs | Views

Zambia, the former British colony, ruled by Kenneth Kaunda from 1964 until 1991 goes to the polls today amid democratic backsliding and economic turmoil. The frontrunners are Hakainde Hichilema of the opposition United Party for National Development UPND and the incumbent Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front.

The incumbent Lungu narrowly defeated Hichilema, 53, in the January 2015 presidential by-election precipitated by the death of then president Michael Sata. The 59-year-old lawyer obtained 48.3% of the 1,671,662 total votes cast, ahead of Hichilema who polled 46.7% and the nine other opposition leaders who shared the remaining 5%. Its more of a return match now with higher stakes. This election is different from the previous elections because of the recent Constitutional provision which now require the winner to garner 50 plus one percent. Considering the fact that the former ruling party Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) is not contesting for Presidency due to a leadership wrangle it's unlikely that there will be a rerun. The turnout on last year's election was 32 percent which means that a rerun can be forfeited if the turnout increases.

The opposition goes to the poll delighted by massive defections of the members of the Patriotic Front to the UPND. Former Vice - President Guy Scott has since threw his weight behind H.H and UPND. Former President Sata' son also defected to UPND and Hakainde Hichilema's running mate is a former Minister from the Patriotic Front. This can be interpreted as a vote of no confidence on the Lungu Adminstration by former allies. However the opposition has misgivings over the complexion of the election. There are fears of electoral malfeasances impugning on the credibility of the election.

The opposition is concerned with duplicitous manoeuvres by the Lungu Adminstration. They argue that President Lungu wants the electoral field to be lopsided and tilted in his favour. They querry the essence of the Electoral Bill which proposed that Electoral Commission officials be immune from prosecution for actions undertaken in the execution of their duties. The Bill also allows the president to sack members of the electoral body unilaterally.

The opposition also querries the decision by Electoral Commission for Zambia (ECZ) to chose a Dubai-based firm to print the election ballots despite the presense of reasonable South African bids. The opposition also argue that ECZ is not properly constituted. This has raised the eyebrows of the opposition political players who are increasingly concerned with some opaqueness surrounding the election.

The pre-election period has been volatile thereby casting aspersions on the credibility of elections. The period had beed plagued by sporadic incidents of violents between PF and UPND supporters.

Lungu is alledged to be resorting to unorthodox means to frustrate the opposition. Violence has flared up in different parts of Zambia and The Post, an influential independent newspaper was also forced to close in June over alleged non payment of taxes - triggering an outcry from media rights' groups and the US embassy.

It's strange how Revenue and Tax collection authorities are used for political expediency in Africa. The Revenue and Tax authorities in Africa potray a velvet glove conceaaling an iron hand. In South Africa they pounced on EFF leader Julius Malema after his fallout with President Jacob Zuma. In Zimbabwe the Revenue Authorities also pounced on Lumunba Lumumba after a public spat with Indigenisation Minister Patrick Zhuwawo. Thats an African sad story where State Institutions are used for political expediency.Thats corporate incest.

The greatest achilles heel on the part of Lungu is presiding over a faltering economy and economic rescucitation is the trump card of Lungu's arch rival Hakainde Hachilema. Zambia's economy is in a melancholy as inflation surged to 21.8 percent and Africa's second-biggest copper producer struggles to save jobs and maintain revenue as prices for the precious resource are nosediving. Sporadic power crisis has further stalled growth. There is economic stagnancy which the opposition intends to capitalise on.

"We need to end corruption and policy inconsistencies which are not good for investment. We shall fix the economy." Thats the message by preached by H.H of the UPND.

The Patriotic Front has a herculean task of convincing the young voters that they can still deliver. With the ever escalation of unemployment and the general economic quagmire, the majority of them are likely to vote on economic concerns rather than ethnic or party considerations and such a scenario favours Hichilema.

Zambia has been ruled by three political parties since Independence namely, UNIP, MMD and PF and these elections will decide whether the Patriotric Front will remain at the helm or otherwise. The death of Michael Sata and Levy Mwanawasa while at the helm still lingers in the minds of people. The collapse of President Lungu last year further fuelled superstitious innuendos pertaining to the Zambian Presidency.

The victory of the opposition in Zambia will be a morale booster for the democratic struggle in Zimbabwe. It will also serve as a wake up call for ruling parties in Africa.

Wilton Nyasha Machimbira, a Political Analyst.>

Source - Wilton Nyasha Machimbira
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