Columnists Features

Does Zambia need such a large number of presidential candidates?

BANDA

MTHONISWA BANDA
THE 2015 election that saw Zambians elect Edgar Lungu as the country’s sixth president and retained the Patriotic Front as the ruling party in Zambia until the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections, will go down in history as one of the strange times when Zambian political parties threw caution and decorum to the wind and sold themselves to the highest bidder.
Eleven parties joined the fray and cast their lot in the hope that one of them would emerge victorious and be the new party to lead Zambia into the 2016 elections. Top among these political parties and in the order they performed were the Patriotic Front (PF) led by Lungu, United Party for National Development (UPND) led by Hakainde Hichilema, Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) led by Edith Nawakwi, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) led by Nevers Mumba and the United National Independence Party (UNIP) led by Tilyenji Kaunda.
Others were the Fourth Revolution (4R) led by Eric Chanda, National Restoration Party (NAREP) led by Elias Chipimo, Heritage Party (HP) led by Godfrey Miyanda, Christian Democratic Party (CDP) led by Dan Pule, Forum for Democratic Alternatives (FDA) led by Ludwig Sondashi and the Greens led by Peter Sinkamba.
These were political parties that felt they were strong enough to face the voter and clear enough to explain their manifestos and outline their visions before the Zambian people.
The 2015 presidential election was as a result of the death of a sitting president and as the constitution stipulated, article 38(1) of the Constitution of Zambia states that ‘if the office of the President becomes vacant by reason of his death…, an election to the office of the President shall be held in accordance with Article 34 within ninety days from the date of the office becoming vacant. Thus the country needed to elect a new leader within 90 days of this occurrence.
In every game, however, there are spoilers and chancers. In politics there are filibusters! Zambia is fortunate to have both!
The spoilers and filibusters in Zambian politics are the political parties that are always on the political scene giving all sorts of ludicrous statements and yet when the time to file their nominations comes they are nowhere to be seen. In the case of the just-ended election, these were the political parties that were loud enough on political rallies and press briefs but were not on the ballot papers.
They were the political one-man or woman party (also known as political NGOs) that made public endorsements for other political parties and extolled the better qualities of their leaders. They urged the Zambian voters to vote for the extolled leader and gave reasons why that leader was better than all the leaders of the political parties (including them)!
These spoilers did all the campaigning either as part of the endorsed party or under the patronage of the favoured party. Their leaders did so either because of the future benefits their actions would get them or because they may have been paid to endorse the other parties.
Examples of political parties that were active during the run-up to the January 20, 2015 election but were never on the ballot papers for one reason or the other included Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD) led by Charles Milupi, Alliance for Better Zambia (ABZ) led by Frank Bwalya and National Revolutionary Party (NRP) led by Cosmo Mumba. Mike Mulongoti of the People’s Party and Nason Msoni of All People’s Congress (APC) were reported to have endorsed UPND and a few days later rescinded their decisions to support the PF.
Explaining himself, Vernon Mwaanga was reported to have said of his endorsement, “The tragedy of some of our opposition political party leaders is that they have their verbal energies targeted at wrong targets, thereby weakening the civilised ways of participating in politics. Given the state our country is in, I had to look for what is best for Zambia at this time.”
On the other hand, Mike Mulongoti said during a press briefing when he and his party withdrew support for UPND to endorse the PF: “Our criteria as an alliance is that we are desirous of a presidential candidate who can demonstrate competent experience, honesty, genuine inclusiveness and maturity in the manner and style of campaigning. Whilst we encourage and embrace electoral pacts and alliances, these should be genuinely driven and based on a mutually agreed upon programme to save our people opposed to rallying around individuals and personalities.”
Frank Bwalya claimed his party had not spread (to all parts of the country) for him to lead it through a presidential election and thus resolved to rally behind Mr Lungu.
“It is our considered view that if the PF adopts Edgar Lungu, it stands a greater chance to win the January 20 election. As independent observers we have noticed that his popularity has been growing across the country. We can safely say that Zambians have decided to vote for Edgar Lungu to finish the term of Mr Sata,” Fr Bwalya said.
Now that the election has come and gone and we now have a 6th President in the name of Edgar Lungu, who has appointed his full Cabinet, we can safely wait and see if the reasons given for these endorsements still hold water.
However, this election brought to light the now acceptable norm by small one-man or woman political parties (political NGOs) to disturb or confuse the voters from making the right choice.
The role of political parties is to offer themselves as alternatives to the ruling party (or government in waiting) by participating in all elections.
These small parties are also fond of stirring trouble for the opponents of their preferred candidates, distracting them from discussing real issues of the campaigns.
In terms of media space, these small political NGOs tend to also overcrowd the media space by giving out interviews to gullible media houses like free manner and also occupying whatever little political media campaign space was available.
Looking at the outcome of the January 20 election, there is no evidence that these political NGOs or one-man parties added value to the political campaigns of this country and whether their endorsements have helped in any way the winning team to win.
Take UPND for example, they got endorsement from bigwigs of the MMD governing body, the NEC, led by its national chairman Kabinga Pande, the ADD and prominent citizens like Vernon Mwaanga, Maureen Mwanawasa but still lost the election.
The country must identify these political spoilers or filibusters and start to ensure that these are not entertained in anyway during a serious undertaking such as choosing the next leader.
For good governance organisations and embassies that sponsor political parties, they need to raise the bar as to who they support. The conditions for support should include participation in national, parliamentary and ward elections before providing financial resources. There is need for these organisations to always ensure that resources that have not been used during the election are returned to these donors.
There is also need for the Electoral Commission of Zambia to restrict the media campaign space to only candidates from political parties that have successfully filed their nominations so that these are given ample time to engage with the registered voters and citizens.
For media gate-keepers (editors and senior reporters), there is need to start ignoring these political NGOs (one -man parties) during the campaign period so that there is enough space reserved for competing and serious political parties only.
The author is an ICT practioner.

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