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Sunday, 31 August 2014

Mangango, PF and 2016 elections

By Michael Chishala

On 20 August 2014 (the day after the Mangango by-election), an article was published on Zambian Economist (ZE) Facebook page claiming that "...if elections were held today across the country, PF would win it comfortably because they continue to consolidate the rural vote, capitalising on their better organisation and financial resources." Furthermore, "It also means that any broadly reasonable candidate for PF in 2016 should secure re-election, provided PF do not do anything stupid between now and then." I wish to respectfully disagree with both the conclusions and reasoning in the article as follows:

1. In Zambia, it is close to impossible to make a solid prediction about a future General election based on results of parliamentary by-elections because the factors at play in the two situations are very different. In Mangango, there was a concentration of time and resources at a single point in time. Reports of money being dished out and electoral violence abounded in the media. I do not believe for one second that the results reflect a genuine PF win in Western Province. In 2016, it will not be possible for PF to spend colossal sums of money in Mangango as they did this time, nor will the top party leadership camp there for several days. The votes there are not worth the effort, compared to Lusaka, Kitwe or Ndola.

A lot of Zambian voters are still giving PF the benefit of doubt as they sit on the fence, but come 2016, they will all be forced to make a choice based on an assessment that shall include such factors as the cost of living, delivery of 2011 election promises, corruption and governance record. PF has failed on all these and many other fronts which advantages the opposition significantly. PF cannot successfully defend itself against the fact that they lied their way to Plot One.

There is empirical evidence to support my main assertion that by-election and general election dynamics are very different. For example, in four constituencies (Mpulungu, Chilanga, Mufumbwe and Solwezi Central), seats changed hands between a by-election and a tripartite election. Livingstone had 3 MPs from 3 different parties between 2011 and 2013. A more in-depth analysis of by-elections, complete with charts can be found in my article published in May 2014 here.

2. It is too early to conclude that PF has made any consolidation of the rural vote. Having more money does not automatically mean PF is more likely to win. In the Katuba, Magoye, Solwezi East and M'kaika by-elections, all the huge amounts of money spent came to nothing as PF were convincingly walloped. In some cases, they had to resort to poaching MPs which is unnecessary if you are truly popular. MMD had the most expensive election campaign in history and all those millions spent in 2011 came to nothing in the end.

3. If elections were held today, I do not see why it follows that PF would win. It appears to me that they have already lost Lusaka which historically goes to the opposition quickly. In 2011, Michael Sata got 224,925 votes in Lusaka Province which is almost 20% of his national total of 1,170,966. A plausible loss of 100,000 votes in Lusaka and maybe 50,000 in Copperbelt would very likely kill PF.

4. PF is a one-man party. I do not see how anyone else besides Mr Sata can galvanize a similar level of support as in 2011. PF have done a lot of stupid things already which I do not even need to itemize. Once Mr Sata leaves office, that will be the end of PF. We have already had a taste of just how vicious the PF infighting will be. As Jesus said, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

5. A unified opposition is not necessary to defeat PF either now or in 2016. I fully expect PF to crack and collapse once Mr Sata steps down (Judging by media reports on his health so far, he is not likely to stand in 2016). The appetite for power among top leaders in PF knows no bonds.

As for the rest of the assertions in the article pointing to a PF win, my view is that they are conjecture at best, and not supported by any hard evidence.

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