Sunday, August 14, 2016

How Will a Lungu or Hichilema Victory Shape Zambia?
Lovemore Ranga Mataire
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

With results of Zambia’s national elections beginning to come in yesterday, Sadc and the rest of the world await to see how the plebiscite will shape the future of that landlocked copper producer. Presidential challenger Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development had a slight lead over incumbent President Edgar Chagwa Lungu. The election was, however, fluid with the potential of a run-off as consolidated votes for 22 constituencies in the afternoon showed President Lungu’s Patriotic Front leading with 207 547 votes followed by UPND with 153 630. UNIP, formerly led by Zambian founding President Dr Kenneth Kaunda, was trailing in third with 1 104 votes. The choice for the Zambians is between nominally rightwing policies of Hichilema and the leftist tendencies of the incumbent.

President Lungu narrowly edged out Hichilema in last year’s by-election following the death of President Michael Sata. He won that election by fewer than 28 000 votes; securing the right to complete the final months of the term of his predecessor who died in office.

A University of Zambia law graduate, President Lungu, underwent military training before practising as a lawyer. He, ironically, cut his political teeth in UPND, but left in 2001 to form PF with the late Michael Sata.

He is from the minority Nsenga ethnic group, something that he brandishes as a tag for being non-tribal. He has used his short time in power to present himself as the rightful heir to the widely popular Sata.

Unlike Hakainde, Lungu presents himself as the guy next door, vowing to “sacrifice democracy for peace” to preserve the country’s relative stability. He is a conservative with a huge dose of pan-African tendencies which was revealed after the arrest of two Zambian gay men in 2013.

He told those advocating gay rights “to go to hell” as the “issue was foreign” to Zambia.

So, a victory for him represents the continuation of pro-poor policies fashioned with a nationalistic verve geared towards addressing the disparities between the rich and poor.

On the other hand despite Hichilema’s rags to riches story, he is widely viewed as an elitist lacking common touch.

Born in a poor family, Hichilema prides himself with being a self-made man whose “grit and determination” won him a priceless scholarship to the University of Zambia where he graduated in 1986 in economics and business administration.

He later attained an MBA degree at the University of Birmingham in Britain.

Hichilema is an orator who has wowed crowds at his rallies and ran a slick social media campaign that has attracted younger voters.

With his slogan, “HH will fix it,” Hichilema’s victory will be much embraced by the business community as he has promised to create a business friendly Zambia and attract investment.

He made history by becoming the youngest chief executive officer of Coopers and Lybrand consultancy accountants at the age of 32 years.

This is his fifth attempt at Zambia’s presidency.

Observers say the odds seem to be more against Lungu who suffered serious defections of top party officials in the run-up to the elections.

Former Defence Minister under Sata’s government, Godfrey Bwala Mwanda, is Hichilema’s running mate while former Deputy President Guy Scot has endorsed the opposition presidential candidate.

Even the late President Michael Sata’s son, Mulenga Sata, resigned from his post as PF’s Provincial Minister for Lusaka to join the UPND, saying his decision to leave the party founded by his late father was difficult but necessary.

He claimed the PF had been “hijacked”.

So, it remains to be seen how the incumbent will perform with all indications pointing to a hotly contested race, which will determine whether Zambians dump the pro-poor policies of PF or embrace the neo-liberal pro-business economic remedies being proposed by Hichilema.

Nowhere are the two parties’ divergent economic policies reflected than in their manifestos.

The summarised version of PF’s manifesto emphasises pro-poor polices and diversifying the economy largely dependent on copper mining.

Noting the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, the PF intends to address social and economic disparities and create safety nests for the marginalised.

On the other hand, Hichilema’s clarion call is job creation and reduction of poverty.

A cursory look at his policies show a slight identification with rightwing politics with no attempt to revolutionise the system.

Hichilema’s 10-point plan is reflective of his corporate background and one who wants to create thriving environment for business “improved competitiveness, reduce government expenditure and instill good governance”.

Despite being ideologically pan-African and populist in perspective, Lungu faces a stern test in convincing the electorate that the current biting economic challenges are a result of the global slump in copper prices and a drought never seen in decades.

After narrowly beating Hichilema 20 months ago, he is hopeful that his home Eastern Province, the Lusaka stronghold, Copper Belt and Bemba speaking regions will carry the day for him.

Hichilema also feels that his home base in the Eastern Province coupled with the support from new younger impressionable voters will be key factors in him emerging the victor.

Young voters seem to have bought into his rhetoric of a new Zambia different from the nationalistic policies of the PF.

UPND has accused Lungu of presiding over the “collapse” of the economy but PF has said it is the drought that has worsened the situation and plans to diversify the economy.

Zimbabwe and the region have to find a way of dealing with Hichilema’s victory which indicates a slant towards neo-liberal policies often criticised for failing to address the fundamental economic disparities between the rich and the poor.

This election is like no other.

First, the winner has to garner more than 50 percent of the total votes cast to avoid a run-off within 37 days.

Second, there is a constitutional requirement for all the nine presidential candidates to have a running mate who will automatically assume leadership and completes the term in case of the incumbent dying or becomes incapacitated.

This provision was meant to prevent the previous scenario where another election was convened.

Third, there has never been a time when people cast votes for five slots.

The electorate had to cast votes for the president, legislators, mayors, local councillors and an amendment to the constitution on changes to the bill of rights. The Electoral Commission of Zambia expressed hope that there would be no confusion among votes as the ballot papers were markedly different for each slot.

Indications are that the two front-runners Lungu and Hichilema will be neck to neck with a run-off being the most likely outcome.

ECZ said 1,7 million people registered to vote. If there is no outright winner then the election could extent to September. Zambia, a former British colony, has had a stable democracy since attaining independence on 24 October 1964.

It later disbanded its one-party state policy in 1991 when UNIP, then led by the founding Prime Minister, lost to Frederick Chiluba of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy.

In 2010, Zambia was cited by the World Bank as one of the world’s fastest economically reformed countries. However, the situation seems to have changed with the country’s GDP slumping to 3,6 percent last year, its lowest since 1998.

Politics in Zambia takes place within the framework of a presidential representative democratic republic with the President being both head of state and government in a multi-party system. The government has executive powers while the legislative power is vested in both the government and parliament.

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