Happy Independence Day to all the Zambians out there!

Image source: Wikipedia

when dictators’ oracles fail them

One of the biggest problems in dictatorships is the dearth of dependable information. This problem affects both dictators and their oppressed subjects alike. The same applies to presidents in electoral regimes who surround themselves with “yes men,” the latter who are oftentimes more concerned about pleasing their patron than giving him the right information.

This cartoon from the Daily Nation exemplifies the surprise from some quarters that greeted Rupiah Banda’s defeat in the just concluded tripartite elections in Zambia.

Former president Banda might have been a victim of misinformation, above and beyond the fact that the opposition Patriotic Front run a skillfully crafted campaign complete with this mega hit (in Zambia at least).

HT African Arguments

more on the zambian elections

Check out African Arguments for a brief backgrounder.

The election remains too close to call, which means that Banda is winning.

Given how stacked things are against the opposition, they can only win if they do so convincingly. If it is close (like it was in 2008 when the president won by just over 30,000 votes) the electoral commission will be under immense pressure to hand the ruling party, MMD, the win.

Mr. Sata (the main opposition (PF) candidate) has urged his supporters to stay at polling stations to monitor the tallying and relay of results. I understand there will be an NGO-led parallel vote tallying (but which won’t be publicized because of govt. sanctions). I hope I can get a hold of these results before the end of the week. The electoral commission of Zambia has promised to release the results within 48 hours of the polls closing – that is Thursday evening.

In Lusaka everything is slowing down in readiness for the elections. There is a sense that there will be isolated violence in some parts of the city but nothing too serious. From what I gather the Copperbelt is the region most at risk of election-related violence. People there have (or believe that they do) the most to gain if PF wins (The Copperbelt is also majority Bemba. Mr. Sata is a Bemba speaker).

The MMD’s privatization drive (of the mining sector) since the early 1990s has hit this region the most. Many lost their sinecures in parastatals;  free medicare and schooling disappeared; and there is also a sense that foreigners are benefiting at the expense of ordinary Zambians in the region. Mr. Sata has promised to channel more resources from the mining sector into social programs and a more aggressive job drive.

This is largely campaign hot air but it appears to be sticking. The MMD will be lucky if it gets even a single parliamentary seat in the Copperbelt.

Zambian Elections

UPDATE:

The conference (organized by the SADC observer mission and donors) on the upcoming elections was a non-starter, with only Neo Simutanyi (Zambia’s preeminent political scientist), giving a talk that had significance. The rest of the conference was full of NGO-ese hot air. None of the major political parties had representation at the conference, even though this was SADC’s “fact finding” conference about the state of play in the elections.

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Zambians will go to the polls next Tuesday.

According to the latest (and most reliable) opinion poll conducted by the Center for Policy Dialogue President Banda is leading the pack with 41%, followed closely by Sata at 38%.

I am attending a mini-conference tomorrow on the elections (academics, observers, NGOs, political parties, etc will be in attendance) and will report back after I get views from those closely involved.

The poll cited above predicts an MMD victory for the following reasons:

  • Incumbency advantage: MMD is using state resources, including government workers, in its campaigns. Road repairs are all over the place, with Banda’s picture and the words “Your Money at Work”, on billboards next to every project.
  • Divided opposition: Mr. Banda is polling a dismal 41%. A PF-UPND united front would almost certainly guarantee a victory for the opposition. But egos and personality politics remain a key barrier to opposition unity in Zambia. Some have claimed that MMD and UPND have a clandestine pact to deny PF victory in the polls. Post-election coalition building will reveal the veracity of these claims.
  • Opposition has ignored rural areas: In many parts of the rural areas you would be mistaken to think that MMD is the only party taking part in the elections. MMD posters and campaigners are everywhere. The opposition has, however, mostly concentrated its efforts in the urban areas. I recently had a chat with a PF operative who admitted that they strategy is to run up the numbers in the urban areas so that even if Banda rigs the rural vote he still won’t be able to beat them. The PF’s target number among urban voters is 2.7 million. There are slightly over 5.1 million registered voters in Zambia. Interestingly, there will be about 2.3 million new voters who did not take part in the last presidential election (turnout was a dismal 41%. Banda was elected president by only 18% of registered voters!!).
  • Fear of Sata: Underneath all the campaigning there is the fear that Sata is unpredictable and dictatorial. Many in the private sector fear that he might try to change things too fast and end up messing up everything. Some admit that they will vote for Banda merely for the sake of continuity.

I agree.

An MMD victory will however be a blow to the consolidation of Zambian democracy.

Since dislodging UNIP from power in 1991, MMD has increasingly become autocratic. Intolerance of the opposition and One-Party-Rule mentality is back in vogue. Indeed, many in its ranks are former members of President Kaunda’s court, including Vernon Mwaanga – derisively known locally as “Master dribbler” – who is notorious for being the brain behind MMD’s electoral manipulations.

Many of the founders of MMD have since decamped to PF.