President Lungu this week delivered a blow to the opposition with three convincing parliamentary wins in his first electoral test as President. The PF won parliamentary by-elections in Chawama, Masaiti and Senga Hill and also picked a big chunk of ward victories held in various parts of the country.
Lawrence Sichalwe (Chawama) polled 7, 500 with closest rival UPND Charles Kaselwa polling 3, 200. Michael Katambo (Masaiti) polled 5,000 against closest rival UPND Peter Mumba polling 2,150. Kapembwa Simbao (Senga Hill) polled over 8500 against his closest rival who polled around 4700.
The turnout was very low at around 15% in some places. This is significantly lower than the 33% in the recent presidential by-election. A turnout of 15% means 85% of people did not vote. One wonders whether there is much point in holding such an election. It is an exercise in democratic folly.
It is obvious that our poor and voiceless people are suffering from electoral and political fatigue. They don't trust Parliament as an institution. That is why they cannot be bothered to vote. So not only are they poor and voiceless, they also do not have any genuine representatives they believe in. In fact some constituencies, contrary to the Constitution, have bee without representatives for 2 years or so now (e.g. Petauke).
More importantly by 85% of people refusing to vote in such by-elections they are quietly posing a larger question. In a very poor country like Zambia, is it morally responsible to spend K6m - K8m on a parliamentary election where 85% of people don't want it? Especially where large costs are going on foreign printed ballots? To that you can add large costs to lost productivity and transport costs by members of the Cabinet who went about campaigning.
The low turnout should be interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the electoral process. And who can argue with them? The poor would prefer that we had less electoral corruption to help reduce on post-electoral legal processes and subsequent by-elections.
The other interesting question is what the results tell us about the politics at present. It seems to us that PF is looking good odds for increasing its share of MPs in 2016 significantly. We are not saying Hakainde Hichilema cannot become president in 2016. That would be foolish. It is perfectly possible for PF to have 60% MPs and Hichilema to win as president.
When one examines the January 2015 presidential result and replicates them at parliamentary level, the PF would easily get 60-70% MPs in 2016. The simple reason is that parliamentary elections are different from presidential elections because of variation in regional turnout. Increasing turnout in Southern and Western Provinces gets more votes for HH to run ECL close (assuming poor turnout everywhere) but it doesn't give UPND parliamentary majority.
So whilst we can't predict who will be president, we can reasonably predict that PF are likely to emerge with a significant increase in seats based on current trajectory and previous experience. However, 2016 is very far in politics and much will depend on whether Lungu restores fiscal responsibility whilst delivering on the Sata agenda of roads, health, education and local government infrastructure.
Copyright © Zambian Economist 2015