By Chimwemwe Mwanza
It’s astonishing that the race to 2026 has begun in earnest – barely three months after UPND dislodged the PF from power. In the past, bye-elections especially those coming on the heels of a Presidential election were often characterised by extreme apathy, yet public interest in the outcome of last week’s polls was high – a significant departure from the norm. Against expectation, turnout across all the seven bye elections spread across the country was relatively impressive.
That PF’s Aaron Mwanza emphatically walked away with the big cheese which is the Kaumbwe parliamentary seat in addition to Patrick Banda scooping the Lusangazi council chairmanship, stunned many a pundit. In fairness, you have got to hand it to the PF for a disciplined campaign. Raphael Nakachinda and his team campaigned as though their lives depended on Kaumbwe and Lusangazi.
Even Party Vice President Given Lubinda and Chishimba Kambwili had to cast aside their rivalry for a joint campaign appearance. The fact that ethnic innuendos somewhat crept in the campaign trail is immaterial to the outcome of the result. Say what you may, the Zambian electorate is becoming too sophisticated to be deceived by ethnic rhetoric – the more reason PF adopted a compelling strategy that spoke to the hearts and minds of the electorate. This is what enabled their clean sweep in Petauke – this despite facing challenging circumstances including biased election monitoring.
While it is tempting to use last week’s elections as a thermometer to measuring Zambia’s political temperature, the PF leadership better not give in to euphoria – this moment is too important to be lost for introspection regarding both the future of the party and its choice of leadership. It might well be that its members are now beginning to show genuine contrition for failed leadership and want to redeem themselves with the hope of having another shot at governing come 2026.
Hence the restraint in Lubinda’s mature but powerful victory speech. For once, his demeanor, tone and manner of delivery had an absence of arrogance. Easily, one could have mistaken this for a concession speech. Never one to miss a moment for sarcasm, Za yellow was quick to warn pundits against writing off the PF, at least not just yet.
“Kwachitika soka ku Kaumbwe, vibanda vamu Kaumbwe vauka kuvotela vibanda vinzao,” remarked Lubinda. Loosely translated as tragedy had just happened in Kaumbwe with ghosts rising from their grave in the middle of the night to cast their vote in favour of a dead party. The fact that Lubinda could use sarcasm in his moment of triumph to unleash such undisguised joy is telling of changing times. Gone is the era of cadres distributing wads of cash to the electorate in celebration of victory.
What does PF’s victory mean?
As the poster child of Zambia’s sugar daddy or blesser type of politics, the PF this time around lacked vitenje, relief maize and brown envelopes to dish to the electorate. Having built a cult personality around Edgar Lungu, this is the first time in seven years that it engaged in major campaigns without the former republican President.
Most important, Lungu’s absence from the campaign trail provided the biggest indication to date that it was ready to dispence with his leadership. Never mind that PF merely retained its own seat, the fact that this came on the heels of an excruciating Presidential defeat buoys its reason for existence.
And for an almost leaderless party, its performance impressed. Does the Kaumbwe and Lusangazi victory therefore signify a resurgence of the party? Truth though is that Petauke is still a bastion of the PF and the fact that political allegiances and other dynamics on the ground have barely shifted – three months post-election, gave the PF a head start.
Post the August polls, PF firmly set its eyes on these elections. In fact, its campaign officials barely left Petauke. While the UPND was transitioning into a governing role, Nakachinda together with his campaign team were busy traversing the breadth and scale of Petauke district. They spoke the language of the electorate and showed more empathy to the plight of farmers that were battling to source grain bags critical to protecting and packaging their harvest. Failure by the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) to procure their produce and late delivery of farming input also topped the list of their concerns.
In a farming district such as Petauke, such issues are emotive precisely the reason why the PF hinged its strategy on a narrative of grievance politics. And the ‘we told you that Hichilema is a liar’ strategy found resonance with the electorate. Honestly, blame for failure to deliver on the concerns raised by the electorate lies solely on the PF which until the August 12 elections was the governing party.
Notwithstanding the deception in PF’s narrative, the electorate opted against punishing PF for their woes. Never mind their reasoning, fact is that PF is no longer in power as such their plight now rests squarely in the hands of the new government. For their misery, why would the electorate punish a political formation that no longer controls the levers of power? This strategy which was a masterstroke for PF is likely to play out in future elections but whether it is sustainable is a different discussion altogether.
While this victory is precisely the tonic PF needed to energise its base, there is hardly evidence to suggest that this electoral outcome represents an upward trajectory for the former governing party. To shift the current political landscape would require the PF to wrestle a parliamentary or council seat in a major UPND stronghold. For now, it seems as though the PF has merely survived to live another day.
As for the UPND, their strategy was lethargic and lacked substance. It’s either that the party completely dropped the ball in Petauke or was simply over-confident hoping the August winds of change would miraculously extend to Kaumbwe and Lusangazi. It might do the party a lot of good to introspect. As ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle once warned, arrogance was the result of emotion or behaviour that we experience or exhibit when we achieve something great, however we must not allow it to cloud our judgement.
Just a warning.
About the author: He is an avid reader of political history and philosophy. The only thing he supports is Kabwe Warriors and Liverpool FC. For feedback, contact: [email protected]