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Sunday, 16 August 2009

Chitambo -A Political Revelation (Guest Blog)

The two leading opposition parties, the Patriotic Front (PF) and the United Party for National Development (UPND), announced in the first week of June 2009 that they had signed an agreement to work together in a pact to remove the MMD from office. They laid down their primary plan, which is to call for early elections through the impeachment of the sitting president. Together, the pact commands over 57.83% of the total vote count in Zambia and they have enough members of parliament (MP) to begin the impeachment process. To succeed with the process, they will need to convince half of the ruling party MP’s to vote no confidence in the sitting president in order to achieve a two thirds majority required for the impeachment to take effect.

For the pact to succeed with its plans, it needs to convince the electorate and the serving MP’s that the impeachment of the sitting president is in fact the will of the majority of the people. They need to prove that the ruling party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, is completely obsolete and no longer supported by the greater majority of the people. They need to market themselves as a unified alternative government representing all tribes and races, putting to rest the well established characteristic of being tribally polarized that they have been carrying since inception.

Despite several attempts to discredit the MMD and its president through the private media and by following a process not recognized by law to begin a motion to impeach the president, they needed something bigger to show they had the support of the nation in this endeavour. They needed a podium to express their new identity and reinforce their agenda with public support. They needed to win, even by one vote, just one by-election in MMD’s strong hold areas to establish themselves as the majority force they claim to represent.

Soon after, the MMD MP for Chitambo passed on after long illness and a by-election in one of MMD’s weaker strongholds was declared on the 13th of August 2009.

In the 30th October 2008 presidential by-election, PF’s candidate polled 1,755 votes (41.95%), UPND’s candidate polled 93 votes (2.22%) and the MMD’s candidate got 2,252 votes (53.82%) with a turnout of 32.47% (4,184 votes) of all the registered voters. This made the Chitambo by-election a perfect constituency to prove the ferocity of the pact and its substantial support from the electorate. Both PF & UPND were not new to Chitambo and together they knew they could easily wrestle away a good portion of the ruling party’s voter support and weaken it thus turning the political table.

The idea of the pact was received as a threat to the promise of continued rule of the MMD and the ruling party was determined not to let it succeed. Earlier on in 2006, the late MMD MP won the Chitambo seat with 6,659 votes (75.13%) in a landslide victory leaving only 897 votes (10.17%) for PF’s candidate and 282 votes (3.18%) for UPND’s coalition at the time. The runner up was the National Democratic Focus party candidate who was tipped to be the most popular who polled 986 votes (11.12%). Previously in Chitambo, MMD polled 53.33% in the 2001 general elections and its popularity had risen considerably by 2006. But the ruling party’s popularity in Chitambo took a sharp knock when it reduced back to 53.82% during the presidential by-election only nine and a half months ago.

This time round the pact ruthlessly embarked on a campaign to woo voters by ferrying campaign teams from Lusaka in order to organize huge rallies and assuring the press was there for every triumphant moment of the tour. Chitambo saw more out-of-town vehicles than ever before and the residents probably did not understand why so much attention was being given to this very small constituency. The MMD campaigned in a dozen brand new vehicles still unregistered while the opposition ferried its campaign organizers and cadres in several light trucks and busses chanting slogans and urging the electorate to rally behind their cause. Chitambo was the centre of all press coverage and momentum grew as the polling day drew closer. Incidences of violence rocked this peaceful constituency of farmers as opposition cadres clashed with ruling party cadres all trying to intimidate each other. Some Chitambo residents displayed their support for the opposition by boycotting ruling party campaign tours whilst chiefs from the region publicly placed their support behind the ruling party and its candidate building on the promise of continuity with change. The unprecedented vigour of the opposition campaign brought Chitambo alive with euphoria never seen before!

The MMD could not match the vigour exhibited by the pact and it chose a very different approach to retaining its seat. The party mobilized its campaign team in Chitambo and went on a quiet door-to-door campaign to convince voters that MMD is the only party capable of delivering on its promises within the current economic constraints. The campaign team attended to each voter religiously addressing their immediate demands and future expectations. The ruling party’s team developed and implemented their campaign programme with an anthropological approach at the lowest possible level putting the registered voter in Chitambo first. They knew that the key to winning the election was the individual voter and that a highly organized and skilled door-to-door campaign was required to assure the voters’ pen their vote the MMD way. This was the only successful strategy they had against the euphoric strategy of mob psychology of the opposition pact.

By midday on the 14th of August, UPND/PF’s pact candidate polled 1,803 votes (32.23%) while the ruling MMD’s candidate polled 3,149 votes (56.29%). MMD had retained its seat in Chitambo and increased its popularity by 2.47% after nine and a half months, whilst the UPND/PF pact popularity fell by 11.94% from 44.17% in October 2008.

Previously internet based polls gave the pact a landslide victory whilst bloggers claimed a revolution was underway. Yet, the end result from the ground showed that faith in the individual political parties was much higher than the faith the people had in the pact. The euphoric strategy of the opposition pact created a false impression of magnanimous support and completely ignored the voter who wanted his individual issues to be addressed. The opposition got lost in the euphoria and failed to convince the voter majority that it can deliver on its promises. Internet users and bloggers were misled by the private press who deliberately created a picture of a revolution where there was none. The pact fell apart as campaign teams from the two leading opposition parties ignored their leaders’ directives and began to campaign for their own presidential candidates for the 2011 general election. In this confusion, their leaders followed suit and started campaigning for themselves instead of directing their attention to unity and solidify the pact.

The conscientious approach to attending to the individual voter gave the ruling MMD the edge it needed to retain its seat and consequently brought doubt to the idea of the pact as an alternative government in waiting. The damage to the popularity of the MMD caused by the threat of the opposition pact, as depicted by the free press, was completely nullified.

(Lusaka / Guest Blogger)


  1. Hi, what an interesting article. I particularly like your use of the idea of a 'euphoric' politics by the PF. Were you based in the constituency during the campaign? I have previously argued (African Affairs, 106/425, 611–637, OF CABBAGES AND KING COBRA: POPULIST
    POLITICS AND ZAMBIA’S 2006 ELECTION by Miles Larmer and Alastair Fraser) that Sata's 2006 campaign represented a form of populism, in which PF's great skill was to go into constituencies, put an ear to the ground to identify local issues, and then to re-present those complaints to the electorate as legitimate sources of their anger and frustration. And the personal style of Sata and the big rallies certainly acted in a euphoric way, to make people think their everyday complaints were legitimate and important. It almost seems you are suggesting here that MMD have done something similar in this constituency, but have been re-affirming people's complaints on the doorstep not at a rally. I guess the one thing I would need to know more about is what issues they were picking up, and how they were claiming they were positioned to solve them. It's a difficult trick for a long-term incumbent party to pull off. Why would people belive things would change?
    Can't wait to hear more of your analysis.

  2. Thank you, Alastair, for your quick response to my piece. I’ll take time to read the document (African Affairs, 106/425, 611–637, OF CABBAGES AND KING COBRA: POPULIST POLITICS AND ZAMBIA’S 2006 ELECTION by Miles Larmer and Alastair Fraser) in order to familiarize myself with your understanding of our situation.
    In the interim, I’ll attempt to answer your concerns as follows:-
    (1) the opposition campaigns are based on a communist/socialist idea of free education, free health care, free roads, free food, free houses, free fuel, etc... which the electorate are familiar with and consumed for 27 years during the one party rule; whereas the ruling party is consistent with its pledge of economic development through the capitalist ideology of self reliance. Therefore, during campaigns, the ruling party listens to the problems of the people and explains how their programme, once completed, will benefit the society (change their lives for the better) as described in the FNDP, the MDG’s and the Vision 2030. The electorate are made to understand that the old way of “free everything” did not work and that the new way of empowerment through production is the only sustainable direction toward lasting economic growth and development. They state how government is applying a lot of resources into agricultural development so as to empower people and get them to fend for themselves, and not have to depend on the state to provide substandard services within its financial constraints. The electorate seem to be comfortable with this approach as they desire sustainable and not short term solutions to their problems.
    (2) the ruling party capitalises on pre-planned government programmes in order to prove that development is slowly coming to a specific area and that in this provision, the views of the electorate will be addressed within the constraints of public finances. They also show that they are willing to adjust their programmes in line with public concern and within their means.
    (3) the opposition campaign capitalises on a euphoric strategy driven by street vendors who are in it for the free ride and quick buck. These illegal traders create a sense of dissent by chanting slogans running a slander campaign filled with insults and baseless accusations, thus making the ruling party look like it has lost control of the citizenry at large and is ruling the nation by decree. There is no issue based campaign during the opposition tours run by these vendors.
    (4) the opposition rallies are attended by pre-organized crowds usually ferried from their strong holds like Lusaka, the Copperbelt, etc... Therefore, the huge turnout at these rallies is not all made up of residents of the area but mostly comprises cadres shipped in to create an impression of a revolution. These cadres do not necessarily have faith in the opposition but they are brought together by senior party cadres at grassroots level who benefit financially from this mobilization.
    I hope this answers your queries.

  3. I agree with you. The opposition campaign never focuses on getting people to work for themselves. They focus on nationalization, market protection barriers, extreme government regulation, etc., whilst people sit at home doing nothing. In the past, UPND talked about job creation and liberalization but these days they are like PF who embrace communist ideas. These communist ideas are painted like it is salvation from tyranny and yet it is completely unsustainable. PF has changed now and they don’t want Chinese, Indians and Lebanese deported out of Zambia anymore but now they have started attacking the profits of western owned business in Zambia. They are making Zambians believe they can fly when they have not even learned to run yet!

  4. It is reported that the ruling party gave K100,000 (US$20) to each voter to vote for them in Chitambo. According to this report, 3,149 x $20 = US$62,980 is all they needed to win the election! But then again the pact spent more money than this in the by-election campaigns. Could it be that MMD uses its funds much more effectively than the pact? Never-the-less, I doubt that a person who is unhappy with government will sell his vote for just US$20! I think an unhappy voter would have taken the money and still cast his secret vote against the ruling party to show his displeasure after all this is what the opposition preaches – take & vote wisely! The fact still remains that somehow the MMD convinced the women and men in the constituency that they were the better choice.

  5. I am writing as a voter, I would be looking for a party which would deliver on their promises.

    My first consideration would be how real are the promises of the party I want to vote for, before I even consider the candidate?

    We moved a step towards truly free elections after unsitting the communist/socialist ideologies of course with the help of the fall of the USSR and we voted the MMD government in 1991 on that basis.... a free market, empowerment of the citizens through long term sustaining initiatives.

    Now the MMD still seems to be the only one with a closer ideal to deliver political and economic progress (FMB, 2009) and I agree, despite the following, a revert to UNIP appeasement tactics, (Policemen will be paid electricity and water bills)Fertiliser susbsidies, how are they working? If they work like subsidised supermarket products in Europe, well and good, but if there's red tape or loyalty to the ruling party or such a thing disguised or open, the MMD's manifesto was tailored against such party bias and corruption.

    In a nut shell, in my opinion, the government policy formulation body must lead the country into developing more frameworks towards even more transparency and checks and a wider gap in power between the executive and legislature.

    I dont think that the MMD has been dynamic in evaluating their goals and the way forward since then, I think they have stagnated and fallen short of the goal, while some values are there, the choice of their new leader has demonstrated for instance(debatable) and I don't think PF, UPND and others have even started the progressive ideals to meet the Zambian Socio-Economic challenge.

    This is purely opinion from a voters point of view.

    Thanks FMB for this analysis,

  6. I think we lose focus of MMD's agenda when we depend on its leaders to bring meaningful change. Who MMD picks for its leadership should not bother you if that leader is made to deliver on the promises. Leadership should be an institution and not a "one man knows all" show like Sata in PF.


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