An Analysis: Have Sata votes demobilized?

Filed under: Politics,Special Comments |

By Henry Kabinga

A few weeks ago, the Post newspaper ran an editorial in which it was suggested that Edgar Lungu may win next Tuesday’s election because the late president Michael Sata’s 2011 votes had not demobilized and would most likely go to Lungu. I have spent some time trying to figure out the veracity of this assumption and have come out with some personal thoughts over the subject.

My starting point in this discourse was the question of who exactly Sata’s 2011 voters were, geographically and demographically. Due to limited data and data sources, the demographic vote is not easy to decipher. Without a credible system of polling registered voters via proper statistical methods, we are left with analyses that must make do with a myriad of assumptions. These assumptions may not hold out in reality. I make this point as a disclaimer for this article.

We need to start by understanding the factors that led to Sata’s votes which countrywide numbered 1,170,966 representing 42 percent of the votes cast. This was against Rupiah Banda’s 987,866 (36%) and Hakainde Hichilema’s 506,763 (18%). The table below shows the votes scored by the top three contenders by province as captured from the Electoral Commission of Zambia website:

GraphThe above table reveals certain fundamentals and variables that were in existence in 2011 but which are markedly different from today’s realities. Some pundits think this voting pattern may be replicated in Tuesday’s vote but in my view, this would be a fatal error in thought.

Let us now look at some of the factors that were there then but are not there today. Firstly, there was Sata. For all his failings, nobody can doubt Michael Sata’s campaign capabilities. Sata was the ultimate man of ‘African politics.’ Gifted with the gab, Sata was a political orator with the common touch. He appeared to empathize with the masses, seemed to fully understand their plight and was very quick in offering solutions. It is of course true that most of his solutions lacked depth. They were often superficial but being what his audience wanted to hear, Sata had no qualms suggesting them for purposes purely of getting elected. As it turned out, when he ascended to power, most of his promises proved to be a large hoax. The current PF candidate does not possess the charisma of Sata and that in itself deducts from the 1.1 million votes of 2011. That most of the 90 day promises have not been fulfilled may in itself haunt the Lungu campaign ahead of Tuesday.

Another factor to consider is that Sata was a veteran politician who had served in two previous governments and had competed for the presidency on three previous occasions prior to 2011. He was in effect a household name. In contrast, the current candidate, Edgar Lungu is not widely known and many Zambians, especially in rural areas will be seeing him for the first time. I am reliably informed that some people just outside Lusaka think it is Guy Scott standing in this election! On the other hand, Lungu’s major competitor Hichilema has, like Sata in 2011, been in three presidential elections and therefore a campaign veteran.

As a matter of fact, this campaign has to be considered as the best that he has run so far both in content and outreach, a measure of the experience that he has gathered along the way, a vital ingredient to winning. It is also not in Lungu’s favour that the only reason being advanced for his election by the current PF campaign is that he was ‘anointed’ by Sata, hardly a strong point to use in a highly competitive election.

The 2011 election was effectively a referendum on MMD rule. Having been in power for twenty years, it was clear that Zambians wanted a change of government. MMD rule had been characterized by accusations of massive corruption, intolerance of divergent views and general mismanagement of the economy, except perhaps under the reign of Mwanawasa. Rupiah Banda was not a well-liked president by most Zambians and his often antagonistic statements against his opponents and Western donor countries did not go down well with most voters. With the population looking for change, Sata appeared to be the candidate most likely to beat Banda. It is therefore safe to assume that some of the votes Sata garnered were those of disaffected Zambians who given another chance would vote differently. The question does arise as to which way these votes will go come Tuesday.

Related to the last point is Rupiah Banda as a factor in Tuesday’s election. Having been a candidate and runner up in the last election with close to one million votes, Banda’s votes are up for grabs. Will these votes follow Banda and translate in Lungu votes, now that Banda is rooting for Lungu? My own answer to this question is yes and no. Yes in the sense that Banda as a former head of state still carries some influence in the country. No in the sense that a lot of his supporters, including MMD party officials and members of Parliament have chosen to back Hichilema.

This is particularly a major factor in the Eastern Province where Banda had a significant influence. With a number of traditional rulers and politicians breaking ranks with Banda to go with Hichilema, the Eastern vote may be too close to call between Lungu and Hichilema. There is also the not so small matter of unpaid peasant farmers who make up a large voting block of this mainly agricultural province who will vote for Hichilema as a protest against PF agricultural policies.

In the rest of the country, Banda’s vote could go either way but indications are that in areas such as Central, Southern, Western, Northwestern and parts of Copperbelt Provinces, Banda’s vote has been wholly taken up by Hichilema. If the above table is taken as a reference point, this is a huge boost to the Hichilema campaign and could well decide the election result.

Hichilema’s showing in 2011 in the Bemba speaking areas of Luapula, Northern and Copperbelt Provinces was to say the least, abysmal. Out of a vote of 1,059,161 attributable to the three contenders in the above table, Hichilema only managed 22,641 representing two per cent votes in these very significant voting areas! If this trend manifests in this election, Edgar Lungu would win. However, indicators seem to suggest the 2011 trend will not occur this time around. This is because Hichilema has done a lot more campaigns in these areas, and assisted by personalities that have a following in these areas such as Geoffrey Mwamba, Felix Mutati, Mutale Nalumango, Katele Kalumba and Patrick Mucheleka, Hichilema is likely to get a significant vote here. How significant still remains to be seen.

If the above scenario is contrasted with Lungu’s likely performance in the UPND strongholds of Southern, Central, Northwestern and Western Provinces, where he does not appear to have made any inroads, the net gain may be in favour of Hichilema, but only if he turns out a stronger showing in Copperbelt, Northern and Luapula Provinces. I state this with the very strong belief that the UPND vote in its strongholds is not only intact, but is likely to improve by very significant margins this Tuesday.

A rather underplayed matter in this election is the Wynter (winter?) effect in the form of the newly formed Rainbow Party. This party has already wrought devastation on the PF with the reported defections of very significant PF structures to this new formation. Whole provincial, district and constituency committees have reportedly moved to Rainbow at a most critical time. This has left the PF campaign severely crippled and the effects will surely manifest in the election result.If you ask me, another minus to the PF vote.

The Munkombwe effect on UPND is not healthy for their campaign. Rather than add to Hichilema’s vote, Daniel Munkombwe has just done some damage which should not be underplayed. Hichilema’s failure to censure this loose cannon at the rally at which he uttered the words ‘it is time for a Tonga to rule’ was a big miscalculation. How significantly this translates voting wise is yet to be seen, though coming late as it did in the campaign, when most voters have made up their minds, I doubt the damage will be that fatal.

Is this election too close to call? Some say it is but without a proper yardstick by which to measure all the variables, all we are left with are assumptions. In my view, this election could even well turn out to be a landslide for one of the candidates. Which one? I leave you to choose but of course, make your own assumptions! Pleasant voting and may the best candidate win



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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31