Last Updated
Thursday 18 December 2014, 14:58 pm.
Letter from Zambia (chapter 3)

LUSAKA: Sunday September 11th, - If you were to ignore the papers for a while you wouldn't think there is a pitched election being fought out. Lusaka, or at least the leafy parts of the city are normal.
By Staff Writer Fri 19 Dec 2014, 10:38 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Letter from Zambia (chapter 3)








Other than the much reported William Banda attack on candidate Sylvia Masebo in Chongwe, and some bruises suffered in skirmishes between cadres of the MMD and PF, no major incidents have been recorded in the country.

No one has been killed and by and large for those not interested in the election, life goes on as usual. At a reception hosted by the Swedish Ambassador for our team, small talk with diplomats revolves around the possibility of trouble flaring. 

I assure one of the guests that from what I have seen and heard since my arrival I don't detect anything menacing in the air. No, there will be no ransacking of abandoned embassies by marauding mobs. 

In terms of canvassing, the street lamps are not festooned with campaign paraphernalia, in the sort of preponderance one would expect in this poll. Posters of the various candidates are few and far between, even then they are very small, except of course for those of Rupiah Banda (RB). In fact the dominant marketing  material on the lamp poles belongs to the cellphone service provider, Zamtel.

This is not for lack of interest in the election. There are altogether 10 candidates vying for the key to Plot One.

This is the fifth time   Zambians will be getting the chance to vote for a president since the re-introduction of multi-party democracy in 1991, when the late Frederick Chiluba and the MMD, riding on a wave of change after 27 years of a disastrous one party state put Kenneth Kaunda and UNIP out to pasture.  Since then the key to Plot One has been contested in 1996, 2001, 2006 and during the by-election of 2008 occasioned by the death of the third Republican president Levy Mwanawasa. However, this year's election is a tripartite exercise, where the nation will be voting for local councillors  and members of parliament as well. Up for grabs are 150 constituencies and 1,422 wards spread across nine provinces and 74 districts. Lots of careers will be made and broken on September 20th. 

There will be much weeping and rejoicing all at the same time. Approximately 60,000 polling officers  will be deployed at 6,256 stations where for greater efficiency multiple polling streams with a maximum of 650 voters will be in place.

Owing to mistrust between the parties, and due, according to Priscilla Isaac of the Electoral Commission of Zambia(ECZ), to a lack of domestic printing capacity, the ballot papers are being printed in Durban. All the parties have sent representatives to police the printing. 

I can imagine them living it up on the glistening beaches of Durban, all at ECZ expense. The ballot papers will start arriving in Lusaka on Tuesday where they will be secured under heavy security ahead of distribution across the country by air, road and boat.

For this gigantic operation USD 80 million (P540 million) has been budgeted to enable Zambians to fulfil their civic duty. It seems enthusiasm for this election is at an all time high. Out of a population of 13 million, 5,167,000 voters are registered.

Of that number  1,064,730 are aged between 18-25 years, 1,716,858 fall between 26-35 years   and 2,385,566 are above 35 years. Talking to locals, they concur that the game changer could be the large number of first time voters who stand at 1,272,000.  At the hair salon for a shave I ask the two young men who they will be voting for, and showing all the excitement of those who  labour under the impression that they hold the fate of many in their  hands, they declare their preferences without hesitation. 

They are cheerful and looking forward to casting their vote. There is no display of anger and malevolence at all. This is a good sign for a peaceful poll.

I also note that Zambian politics is refreshingly free from ideological  rhetoric. The parties veer towards pragmatism and keep their message simple and comprehensible to the masses.

At a briefing by MMD, UPND and FDD, none of them commits to an ideological position claiming instead to be more focused on bread and butter issues. 

Of the 10 rivals for Plot One I fail to decipher how, with the exception of RB, Michael Sata (King Cobra) and the  youthful leader of UPND known as HH, the others intend to make a meaningful impact on the race.

But they are not short of confidence. Edith Nawakwi, the lone female ranger tells us to brace ourselves for the first  woman  president. But it's a no contest when it comes to campaign resources. The MMD has gone BDP.

They seem to have a deep war  chest, judging from the  way they have splashed out on bakkies, SUVs and even  bicycles for canvassers. Their campaign is evidently handled by a corporate marketing outfit because the branding elements are top notch. Their colours are sky blue, prominently forming the backdrop to glossy billboards displaying a portrait of RB promising security, stability, prosperity and declaring himself a president for all Zambians.

The MMD  has  gone to town with a series of radio jingles and television  commercials all  focusing on  RB. They are also dishing out campaign freebies like t-shirts and chitenge cloth.

The Post alleges that the MMD has imported enough bales of chitenge to give every Zambian three pieces each.

So liquid is the MMD that Sata is challenging Banda to disclose where they got funding to buy  what he says are 500 campaign vehicles.

Unable to compete in giving out freebies, the PF, which sells the fiery King Cobra as A Man of Action, is countering with a campaign dubbed 'Don't Kubeba", loosely meaning 'take what they give you but don't disclose your vote'.

In terms of campaign issues the ruling party has taken to the hustings showcasing its record of economic growth, social and physical infrastructural development,  a bumper maize harvest and experience in governance.

The PF is talking about better redistribution of the national cake, lower taxes, combating corruption and the need for political change. Its cadres argue that MMD toppled UNIP preaching the mantra that 27 years in power was too long.

If their rivals are given another fresh mandate it means they will  be in power for 25 years by 2016 hence the need for the PF to assume office.

The FDD is a proponent for citizen economic empowerment, and  decries that the country, classified as lower middle income does not have a  middle class to speak of.   Nawakwi says they exist to protect the constitution and want reforms to the electoral system entailing a run off  if the winning candidate does not attain a fifty percent plus one threshold.

Secretary General Chivu of the UPND tells us they advocate clean governance. On the economic front they want to reinstate the 25 percent windfall  tax on the mining sector so as to pay civil servants a minimum 5 million kwacha(P6,500)per month.

They profile themselves as a progressive party led by a self-made multi-millionaire. Buoyed by their slogan of Zambia Forward they point out that their flag bearer, HH won't be tempted to steal because he is already wealthy.

The UPND complain they are not getting any coverage from the government media services.

They are in a fix because The Post has also informed them that they are blacklisted and there will be no reportage on them. Could the rumour that MMD and UPND are in a clandestine alliance against the PF be a reason for The Post's fit of pique? This is an election full of intrigue, making for much excitement.



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