On the Zambian Presidential By-Election

Zambians go to the polls today to elect a president to serve the remainder of the late Michael Sata’s term. President Sata died on the 28th of October, 2014. The winner of the by-election will be office until late 2016 when when elections are due for both the presidency and the National Assembly.

Today’s contest is between the two front-runners: Edgar Lungu, the candidate of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF); and Hakainde Hichilema (HH), the candidate of the United Party for National Development (UPND). Lungu has the advantage of incumbency, and a favorable electoral map (interim president Guy Scott is constitutionally barred from running). As the table below shows, support for Sata in the last election (2011) was concentrated in provinces that were both vote-rich (column 7) and recorded high turnout (column 5). HH’s support has historically been strongest in his native Southern Province and the vote-poor Western and Northwestern Provinces. He is also competitive in Central Province.

Presidential Election Results (2011)
Province Sata (PF) Banda (MMD) Hichilema (UPND) Turnout Turnout (2008) Vote Share (Ascending)
Northwestern 10.85 50.21 35.24 54.88 42.7 6.249513033
Western 23.12 33.2 28.21 47.77 38.4 6.800182089
Luapula 73.54 22.9 0.85 50.49 37.8 7.447270534
Central 28.28 48.21 20.82 46.87 40.6 8.149764957
Eastern 18.46 72.6 3.33 49.89 40.5 11.60268286
Southern 6.59 19.15 71.41 58.04 49.8 13.47451036
Northern 64.18 32.16 0.78 57.28 44.6 13.62680466
Lusaka 55.94 30.76 11.29 52.05 50.7 14.50255098
Copperbelt 67.88 26.22 3.57 59.5 52.8 18.14672051

HH’s chances will depend on whether the fallout within PF (Lungu’s nomination did not occur without incident) and the implosion of MMD produce a swing in his favor. Disaffected MMD supporters will therefore be a critical swing bloc. Furthermore, ahead of the elections Hichilema managed to get the endorsement of Geoffrey B. Mwamba (GBM), a former minister in the Sata government. But it is unclear whether GBM will be able to sway voters in his native north of the country, which voted solidly for Sata in 2011 (see map below). Sata, like GBM, was from Northern Province (since divided into Northern and Muchinga Provinces).

Sata constituency level vote share (% of votes cast)

Sata constituency level vote share (% of votes cast)

A low turnout today will favor PF. In the last presidential by-election (in 2008) turnout was 45.43%, 8 percentage points lower than the 53.65% recorded in the 2011 General Election. PF, with its wide support in the more urbanized Copperbelt and Lusaka (see map and table, column 6), therefore enters the race with a distinct advantage. If Hichilema is to have a chance he must not lose the turnout contest, and at the same time win by wide margins in the northwest, west and south of the country.

Of course the biggest unknown is whether Lungu can attract the same level of support as did Sata in 2011 (I lean towards him getting a sizable sympathy vote). Lungu is new to the presidential race, while HH has run multiple times. HH therefore has an assured strong base in the south (and possibly west) and better name recognition across the country. So despite PF’s incumbency status (which is no small matter), in many ways this is an open race.

From a research perspective, I’ll be keen to observe how the map above changes once all the votes are in. Which regions of the country will swing out of the PF column? Will the MMD survive this election? Can HH break out of his “Southern” tag?

Whatever the results, this by-election is a warm-up to what promises to be a very exciting General Election in 2016 (Also, I hope to have opinion poll data to play with ahead of the 2016 contest).


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.