KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
THE August 11 elections will be a complete new affair, not just because they will be held under a new constitution, but because the dynamics would have changed from 21 months ago when the country went for the last presidential election.
Even without the new constitution, one of things that was bound to change was the electoral outlook.
With a turn-out standing at 32.36 percent in the January 2015 presidential election, called after the death of the then incumbent, Michael Sata, this was the worst in the countryâ€™s history. This was 1,671,662 votes cast out of 5,166,084 registered voters.
In the September 2011 general elections that swept Mr Sataâ€™s party to victory, there was a turn-out of 53.65 percent, representing 2,772,264 out of 5,167,154 registered voters.
In the October 2008 elections, held following the death of incumbent Levy Mwanawasa, the turn-out was at 45.43 percent or 1,791,806 out of the 3,944,135 registered voters. Two years before that, when the country went to a general election, the turn-out was at 70.77 percent, a voter turn-out of 2,789,114 out of 3,941,229 registered voters.
In all these elections, none of the winning presidential candidates was able to marshal a 50 percent-plus-one majority win. In fact, you have to go back to the 1996 general elections and the 1991 general elections to find the last time the country had a winning candidate getting over 50 percent of the votes.
In 1996, when Frederick Chiluba of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) won his re-election, he obtained 72 percent of the vote. But this was in an election that was boycotted by the main opposition UNIP after its President Kenneth Kaunda was barred by the parentage clause in the 1996 constitution.
By how much that percentage would have reduced had Dr Kaunda been able to run is a matter of debate. The nearest main contenders, Dean Mungâ€™omba of the Zambia Democratic Congress (ZADECO) and Humphrey Mulemba of the National Party (NP), obtained 12.75 and 6.66 percent respectively.
In the 1991 election, Dr Chiluba obtained 75.76 percent of the votes while Dr Kaunda got 24.24 percent.
But that is in an election in which people called for change.
Call it a revolution!
It is similar to what happened in 2011, when the electorate, particularly the youth, buoyed by that song Donchi Kubeba, turned up at the polls to change government.
But even with that, the winner Mr Sata could only boast of 41.98 percent of the votes against that of his main contenders, Rupiah Banda of the MMD with 35.42 percent and 18.17 percent for Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND).
If that election was held under the new constitution, it would have meant a re-run.
Well, simply put, every presidential election that the country has held starting with the 2001 would have had to go for a re-run as none of the winning presidential candidates has been able to obtain 50 percent-plus-one.
You can point to the fielded crowd for the presidential ballot as the reason why no one has been able to obtain 50 percnet-plus-one. But the presidential ballot for the 2006 election does not support that.
Agreed, there were five candidates; Mr Sata (PF), Mr Mwanawasa (MMD), Mr Hichilema (United Democratic Alliance), Godfrey Miyanda (Heritage Party) and Ken Ngâ€™ondo (All Peoplesâ€™ Congress Party).
But General Miyandaâ€™s votes together with those of Mr Ngâ€™ondo, only amounted to less than three percent, and that is in an election that had over 70 percent turn-out.
So, what does this say about the August 11 elections?
Strong indications are that it will go to a re-run unless some strategic pacts are formed by the competing candidates.
You cannot read much into the January 2015 elections, they tell little.
For a start, two main players were going in an election with bruises, thanks to their internal squabbles.
While President Lungu of the ruling party was fighting his own battles within the party, Dr Nevers Mumba of the MMD was also battling to stop former President Banda from having his name on the ballot for the former ruling party.
In the meantime, Mr Hichilema had hit the ground running, criss-crossing the country as the squabbles threatened the very survival of the other two parties.
The result was a closely contested election in which Mr Lungu won with 48.33 percent of the votes against his main rival, Mr Hichilema, who had 46.67 percent. Dr Mumba was left trailing in fourth with 0.87 percent of the votes.
So much has been said about Edith Nawakwi, leader of the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) being third in that election.
But it is nothing really.
Yes, she came out third, but with only 0.92 percent of the votes.
This is a worse showing than that of Chama Chakomboka in the 1996 elections in which he obtained 3.29 percent of the votes or 41,471 votes against Ms Nawakwiâ€™s 15,321 votes in the January 2015 election.
In fact, all the votes obtained by Tilyenji Kaunda, Eric Chanda, Elias Chipimo Jr, Gen Miyanda, Daniel Pule, Ludwig Sondashi and Peter Sinkamba combined, are still less than what Mr Chakomboka obtained in the 1996 election.
Alex Muliokela would fancy his chances here.
So, with nine out of the 11 candidates in the last election failing to muster even one percent of the votes, it simply means they will not have much of an effect in the August 11 election.
Maybe, in the second round!
But of course, the complexion in this yearâ€™s election will change.
For a start, there will be new voters coming on board to vote.
The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has announced that it has recorded a total of 1,593,840 new voters to add to the 5,166,088 registered voters that were eligible to vote in last yearâ€™s election.
But other than new voters coming on board, President Lungu will be enjoying the benefits of being the incumbent.
So, with the other candidates representing such insignificant numbers at the polls, with the exception of perhaps Dr Nevers who, like President Lungu, had little time to campaign, who could be key in turning the August 11 elections?
Highly doubtful, he does not have any reliable and stable constituency, not even in Matero. The PF is unlikely to spend sleepless nights worrying about him. Wynter Kabimba was undoubtedly more influential than Mr Sampa in PF, but he has been unable to inflict any major damage since he went on to form the Rainbow Party.
So, who could be key in turning around the August 11 elections?
It is a long short, but nonetheless, a fair one â€“ it could come down to the choice of a running mate.
The running mate concept has been borrowed from the United States.
But it has not always been that way; the United States constitution was not designed that way until one president had to deal with a nearly rebellious vice president. In the past, the second place finisher in the Electoral College took the Veep position. Most candidates in the United States use the running mate to kind of balance the ticket, if say, one is seen as inexperienced, he may go for a veteran, or if they are old, they may go for someone young.
In Kenya, where election violence led to ethnic violence, Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenyaâ€™s founding President Jomo Kenyatta, who is Kikuyu, Kenyaâ€™s largest tribe, won the 2013 election by forging an alliance with William Ruto, a politician who is popular among the Kalenjin-speaking people, who are numerous in the rift.
He beat Raila Odinga, son of first Vice President of Kenya Oginga Odinga, whose Luo tribe say they have been shut out of power for decades.
With the last election in Zambia revealing some regional blocking, it will be interesting to see how candidates will try and balance their tickets. First President Kaunda tried tribal balancing in his appointments although some frowned upon it saying it bred inefficiency.
But when this was upset by Simon Kapwepwe, who beat Reuben Kamanga for the UNIP vice presidency in the 1967 elections in which an alliance was formed between Lozis and Ngonis on one hand, and Bembas and Tongas on the other, it had serious repercussions for the party.
While the Bemba-Tonga alliance secured more positions on the Central Committee, UNIP went on to lose all but one seat in the 1968 general elections in Barotse with the likes of Arthur Wina and Munu Sipalo losing.
For President Lungu, he says for the choice of a running mate, he wants someone who shares his vision and aspirations for Zambia.
It is not clear how Mr Hichilema will choose his running mate; in the choice between his two vice presidents â€“ Geoffrey Bwalya and Dr Canisius Banda, or some other outsider?
It is not a simple choice to make.
Dr Banda has not won an election on the political front; he lost in Matero in 2011 while Mr Mwamba lost in Kabwata but easily won in his hometown of Kabwata. Is Mr Mwamba that influential in the northern part of the country? The only way to tell is if he had contested the Kasama by-election on the UPND ticket against a candidate from the PF.
Whatever the case, August 11, will be intriguing, if not interesting.
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka