A Turmoiled History of Zambian Elections

Zambia has come a long way since independence. Since 1964, we have had five presidents serve, three of whom have passed and two as sitting presidents: President Levy Mwanawasa and President Michael Sata. Both were great Presidents with a remarkable vision for the country; both contributed to the development of Zambia in their own right.

After a decade long of relentless struggle for presidency, President Michael Sata finally won in the 2011 general elections by a landslide, removing President Rupiah Banda who was the countries Vice President under President Levy Mwanawasa’s government. After President Mwanawasa’s untimely demise he was voted in to continue the late Presidents time in office but due to some governance issues the people of Zambia were ultimately convinced it was time for a change of government as the ruling party then (Movement for Multi-Party Democracy- MMD) had been in power for over a decade and half hence it was time to give way to a new Party; the Patriotic Front (PF) to lead Zambia to a new destiny.

The moment the PF came in to power the country witnessed a massive shift in infrastructure development like never seen before, this was unlike the typical politician talk and futile promises about development which would not be seen once elected in office. The road network project: Pave Zambia 8000 was implemented and today there have been a lot of smiles on many road users faces as a result of the facelift that most communities have received with the tarred roads. The road network has not been the only development agenda for PF, Schools and Universities have been built in different parts of the country and resultantly  Zambians have satisfied with the government’s heart for the people in that aspect. The next step that the ruling government took was rebasing of the Zambian Kwacha, a welcome step which was accompanied by some economic shock waves after its implementation such as the depreciation of the Zambian Kwacha on the international exchange market. We were reminded of a point in time shortly after independence when the Zambian Kwacha was the most powerful currency on the global market as 1 Kwacha was trading for 2 Great Britain Pounds, therefore the extent at which the kwacha has depreciated does not resonate well with many of the Zambian people who went through a rollercoaster ride as a result of the currency fluctuations.

The government later also announced the removal of subsidies on primary commodities like fuel and maize production to help accelerate the development agenda of the country, it was a bittersweet moment with the PF government as about seventy five percent of the population that understood welcomed the move and the rest did not. It is said that time heals all wounds so it took a considerable amount of time for people to get used to a new way of doing things but eventually like anything else people fall in line and get accustomed to the new normal.

It has been three years, since the current ruling party came into power with a mandate to improve Zambia’s economic situation. This can be likened to a deep and intense surgery that put every Zambian's nerves on edge. We began to hear reports of the President being sick and when he appeared in public the strong countenance of President Sata had started to fade until a couple of months later his death was announced and our country again had to go through mourning a President. Michael Chilufya Sata’s story resonated and inspired many people and especially young people to hold strong to their dreams and fight until you live your dream, he was admired, revered and respected and he did an exceptional job with his government by whipping his government in shape like no other President had done before. During his government we saw minister’s right down the district commissioner diligently work for the people as this wasn’t the case in other governments. His legacy remains as the Man of Action, the kind of President Zambia needed to shake things up to the reality that the world is progressing and changing and we needed to get with the program.

Soon his light was to fall in the books of history as another was to step into his shoes. A man quite new to the political arena but was very close to President Sata , served as Minister of Justice and Minister of Defense, infact he was left in charge of the country as Acting President when President Sata was out of the country, a lawyer by profession and his name, Edgar Chagwa Lungu. He was voted to succeed President Sata as President of the Patriotic Front (PF) and stand as candidate on the PF ticket for President of the republic of Zambia as this was a tradition or constitution to always have a general election should the president of the ruling party suddenly pass away although many preferred that in such instances the Vice President complete the term but that was not the law so hence Zambians were subjected to another general election. 10 political party representatives rose to the occasion to become Zambia’s 6th President but looking at the popularity among the electorate only three political parties were in the limelight, the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy-MMD, United Party for National Development-UPND and the acclaimed Patriotic Front – PF.

Most Zambians who were impressed with what the PF government had done during their tenure were of the view that winning the election the second time around would have been a walk in the park but what presented a challenge and gave other political parties rope to yank voters to their side was the new face of the party- Edgar Chagwa Lungu who came on the scene and surpassed long time loyalties of friends of the late President, people like his vice president Guy Scott. Most of the electorate felt that if anyone were to lead the party after Michael Sata it would be Guy Scott as opposed to the new guy. This dilemma ended up causing the election being unpredictable which meant that the battle would be between the two parties who pulled the biggest crowd; UPND and PF. Long story short, PF won by less than 28,000 votes shy of the landslide that brought them into power in the previous election.

It was Edgar Chagwa Lungu’s day in office to finish the remaining 18 months of the PF government. He continued rolling out the development plan of the PF government and made some interesting changes in government that made history for Zambia, for the first time Zambia had its first Female Vice President which gave more women positions of power to promote gender equality and let the world know Zambia was with the program too. The development side was going good, more roads and infrastructure development was evident but on the economic side the inflation rate doubled for the first time and the Kwacha performed its worst, however, there was a rise in GDP.

Then here we are, August 10th just a couple of hours before Election Day. During the campaign season we have seen many atrocities committed that have never been witnessed before such as brutalities resulting in the loss of a few lives. There has been freedom of speech taken away from a private owned local newspaper as a result of an alleged failure to pay taxes which stormed up a lot of debate as why it was that particular media house to have bene targeted that even the international media community intervened. Zambians also witnessed power of office at work a little too strongly to the point that other political parties were not availed the same opportunity to address the nation during campaign. It is an old classic game of thrones style of election which has prompted most of the electorate to consider carefully their choice for President.

Here is the Zambian voter perspective, it is not much about what the presidential aspirant or political party stands for, it is about what the people can see the government doing for them that would improve their livelihood, for young people, the question remains as to what impact their vote will have on their lives?...what is the benefit for them now? Will voting give them a job or improve their lives in any way right now. We understand this logic- development is about what we can see being done to improve our livelihoods as young people (we make the numbers) what benefit do we realize from voting?

Our perspective on these two things is; firstly, take time to understand your preferred presidential candidate and his plan for development that will benefit you and your family not Zambia because Zambia is a big place with a lot of good hard-working families so make sure the development agenda benefits yourself and your family because if the lower and middle class are well taken care of, Zambia benefits indirectly beware of the top down approach. Secondly, young people are a revolution and as much we want to be part of the process that will lead and inform policy in our country voting is a part of that process we have to do it… voting isn’t necessarily about what you get right there and then it’s more of an investment in a future you want for your children, a prosperous future you can be proud of. The work starts now, and voting is a big part of that process even if the party you want in power doesn’t get in, you have a moral obligation to respect the party that wins and work with them regardless of the outcome, which is part of being a young leader.

Let’s get out there, vote and support peaceful elections so we can get it over with and get back to business as usual.