THE Economist Intelligence Unit says the impeachment motion lodged in Parliament by the UPND against President Edgar Lungu is likely to fail but will serve as a serious embarrassment to the Head of State.
And the EIU has warned the PF that expelling the party’s influential founder members will come at a cost given the deep-seated public concern about corruption and ministers that have left office so far have chosen to expose malpractice on their way out.
In it’s May 15 report, the EIU states that Zambia will face substantial threats to political stability from 2018 to 2022, stemming from an unusual degree of social division and political intolerance under the presidency of Lungu.
“Given the widespread perception among the opposition that corruption is worsening, job opportunities are too few and Zambia is descending into authoritarianism, pent-up frustration could spark serious turbulence,” according to the report.
“For example, unrest is likely to break out when the Constitutional Court delivers its verdict on whether Mr Lungu is eligible to stand for another term in the 2021 election; the date for the verdict has not been given. If another term is deemed unconstitutional, Mr Lungu has himself publicly warned the Constitutional Court of chaos, but as the President appoints its judges, such a verdict is unlikely. Even so, clear politicisation of the judicial process also means that a ruling deeming him eligible to stand again is likely to be perceived as tainted by the opposition.”
The EIU states that any related unrest was likely to be in the form of opposition protests, potentially involving low-level violence.
It states that the run-up and execution of the 2021 election would be another volatile period during which the government would look to aggressively narrow the political space.
“Indeed, any time Mr Lungu feels his position is vulnerable, there are likely to be crackdowns, which in turn risk building resentment. If disorder becomes widespread, as is likely, extra security powers could come into force, as they did for three months in 2017,” reads the report. “On the one hand, this would act as a mechanism for bolstering overall stability; on the other, it would reinforce perceptions that Zambia is staggering towards autocracy and exacerbate underlying social tensions.”
The EIU states that besides toxic relations with the opposition, the PF would continue to be split between a conservative “old guard” – the faction that founded the ruling party, which has long been skeptical of the President – and loyalists of President Lungu.
It states that ministers from the old guard had already resigned or had been purged, but that this restructure lost direction when the Felix Mutati was demoted in an apparent concession to this faction, which long wanted him out of cabinet.
“Ultimately, Mr Lungu’s control over the party is based more on short-term manoeuvring than clear strategy (other than his overarching goal of securing the PF’s presidential nomination at a party congress in 2020). Therefore, although open rivals for the party’s presidential nomination are still likely to be purged, the process will be erratic and will leave the government unstable and policy implementation unpredictable,” reads the report.
The EIU reiterated that if President Lungu is deemed eligible to stand again in election, his control over the party machinery and the support of most of the Central Committee, as well as a tightening grip on the media and state institutions, should see him secure the PF nomination.
“Influential (and usually old guard) rivals will also be expelled or opt to leave. But this will come at a cost; there is deepseated public concern about corruption—for good reason—and ministers that have left office so far have chosen to expose malpractice on their way out,” reads the report. “Citing graft is a means by which ambitious politicians leaving government can begin afresh, in opposition, with a powerful campaigning message at their disposal.”
The EIU states that as the PF shake-up continues, there would probably be similar allegations, and the associated bad press would be damaging for the PF.
“The same applies to an impeachment motion against Mr Lungu for gross mismanagement currently being brought forward by the United Party for National Development (UPND), Zambia’s largest opposition party; the motion is destined to fail, but will be an embarrassment to the President. Standing to gain from all this is the UPND, the National Democratic Congress – founded by an exPF minister expelled by Mr Lungu in mid 2017 – which is already making inroads into the ruling party’s Copperbelt heartland on an anti-corruption platform, and potentially the newer Socialist Party,” reads the report.
It states that the impeachment motion had showed that the UPND, which was battered by crackdowns in 2017, was still a force to be reckoned with.
“But in practical terms it is set to be abortive,” according to the report. “The motion collected signatures from one-third of members of parliament (MPs) in the 166-seat National Assembly, but a minimum two-thirds majority would be required for it to pass in a vote. The UPND only has 47 representatives, and so even if another 30 independents and members of other opposition parties were in favour of impeachment, the motion would still need backing from one-third of the MPs of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF). It seems unlikely that such a number would be willing to jeopardise their parliamentary term by risking a snap election, especially as the government has yet to make headway on its campaign promises – namely with regards to jobs – and support for new political forces is growing.”
The EIU also notes that Solid Sino-Zambian relations had been forged by a string of infrastructure and manufacturing investment deals agreed with Chinese firms over the past few years.
It however stated that relations with Western donors would be strained by concerns over widespread official corruption.
The EIU also noted that President Lungu had offered to engage in serious dialogue with the UPND in a bid to end disruptive political disputes.
It states that taking centre stage at the talks would be electoral reform and amending the Public Order Act, “an outdated colonial law” that the opposition claims has been used repeatedly by the police to circumvent normal civil liberties.
The EIU states that Ibrahim Gambari, the mediator from the Commonwealth, which brokered the agreement to engage in talks, recently arrived in Zambia for a five-day visit to prod President Lungu and the UPND leader, Hakainde Hichilema, to commit.
It states that the Commonwealth would set up a steering committee for the process, which would comprise the Law Association of Zambia, some non-governmental organisations and the Catholic Church.
“Antagonism between the ruling Patriotic Front and the UPND has ebbed and flowed since the 2016 elections but has generally been acute, with Mr Hichilema refusing to recognise Mr Lungu’s victory in a vote he claims was rigged. Tension peaked in 2017, when Mr Hichilema was arrested and tried on treason charges that the opposition widely felt were farcical,” stated EIU. “The following unrest saw the imposition of a state of emergency that lasted three months. Things have calmed down since the Commonwealth agreed to broker the talks and Mr Hichilema was released, but actual dialogue is yet to begin.”