Edgar Lungu has intimidated all possible contenders for the presidency in the Patriotic Front to push his way to the 2021 ballot. Using his influence as the incumbent president and money, he is ready to disregard the law which bars him from having a third term of office.
With impunity, Edgar and his minions are boasting about how easy it has been for him to ensure he is the Patriotic Front’s presidential candidate again in 2021.
They’re saying Edgar will be president until 2026. Printing of campaign materials for 2021 has even started. How sure are they that he is contesting the 2021 elections? And where are they getting the millions of kwacha being spent on printing of 2021 campaign materials for Edgar?
Their overconfidence that Edgar will be president until 2026 even before people vote in 2021 can only explain one thing – a possibility of another fraudulent election.
As Edgar aimed to convert Zambia to a dictatorship from a vibrant multiparty democracy, one key issue always undermined his efforts – his opposition. For Edgar to effectively retain or strengthen his hold on power, he realised that he had to remove his opposition, for it was the other political parties, the media and those who opposed his political aims that meant that he couldn’t easily get a third term of office and so couldn’t legitimately remain in power for more than two terms. However, Edgar was able to tackle this task effectively through the elimination of all competitors in the ruling Patriotic Front and the abuse of the police and the entire judicial process to strangle the opposition, all of which quickly enabled him to convert Zambia to a de facto one party state.
Following his fraudulent ascension to power in 2015, Edgar began laying the foundations of his corrupt, intolerant and evil state. Guided by authoritarian and corrupt principles, Edgar started to eliminate individual freedoms and went as far as declaring a state of emergency – rights that have been guaranteed by the Constitution. Zambia has become a police state in which Zambians enjoy no guaranteed basic rights and the Patriotic Front wields increasing authority through its control over the police. Political opponents, especially those in the UPND, NDC and the Socialist Party, along with the critical media, were subject to intimidation, persecution, and discriminatory law enforcement.
In the first two years of his rule, Edgar followed a concerted policy of repression, by which political parties, the media, churces and other civil society organisations were brought in line with his goals. Everything, and law enforcement, all came under his control.
Using his powers to retire public servants in national interest, Edgar began eliminating certain ethnicities from governmental agencies, and state positions and undermining their business interests. Edgar’s government further weakened and compromised trade unions. Edgar also attempted to synchronise the Christian denominations and their affiliated organisations, but he has not been entirely successful.
Parliament and the judiciary became rubber stamps for Edgar’s corrupt dictatorship.
Democracy in its Aristotelian sense is all about running matters of governance in a non-eliminationist way, adopting a tolerant approach where competing political ideas are packaged and put to the vote in search of majority opinion.
It is sad when we see cadres in the Patriotic Front declaring opponents of Edgar persona non grata, and forcing them out of the ruling party purely on the basis that they happen to be challenging the supreme leader, the anointed one, on aspects of his leadership qualities. It is even sadder when Edgar himself initiates, encourages and condones the unwarranted purging of his critics, and it is heart-rending when the man actively encourages that repudiating behaviour from his minions.
It cannot be admirable for Patriotic Front to seek to defeat the UPND or any opposition party by employing the politics of elimination. It is not a sign of patriotism for anyone in the Patriotic Front to incite cadres into the politics of eliminationism where parties, other than the ruling party and Edgar, are viewed as a threat to the security of the country, or as a cancer that is fatally detrimental to the national good. We must thank heavens that Zambia has no culture of banning opposition political parties.
If indeed any political party is a national threat to the progress of the country, the democratic process presses upon us the need to expose the detrimental values of that party, so that the party is rendered unelectable in any genuine democratic election. The route of physical elimination of members of such a party is not only undemocratic, but also a huge risk to the political stability of this country.
The calls and demands for political dialogue and reconciliation, could have been a promising moment, one that encouraged Edgar to pursue a decidedly more democratic path. He could have used the opportunity to educate the Zambian people on the merits of national unity, political tolerance and the need for a loyal opposition, rather than unending political tension, violence and mistrust. After every opposition party came out in support of the need for dialogue, Edgar could have seized the moment to build unity, reconciliation and emphasise that even amid partisan political differences, most Zambians share a commitment to democratic practices, peace and unity.
But this has not happened, and may not happen. And for good reasons: Even if such moves would be good for Zambia, they’re not good for Edgar himself.
For those committed to democratic ideals, it is tempting to think that political success is derived from appealing to the many and delivering the policies most people want – that is, from trying to make the world, or at least one’s own country, a better place. But if the chief goal of politics is, instead, to seize and remain in power, then democracy is not a politician’s friend. From this perspective, rather than appealing to the many, the selfish politicians devise means to be beholden to as few people as possible. The fewer the number of people whose loyalty is required, the easier it becomes to keep such supporters happy, even at the expense of society – and thus to keep control indefinitely.
Edgar is adept at replacing opponents with lackeys, and continued political tension and polarisation in the country gives him an opportunity. If “success” means holding on to power, Edgar’s best response may very well be the one he’s chosen: brutalising, detaining, arresting, or firing those he thinks are an obstacle to his continued stay in power, along with a broad swath of his political opponents.
From one perspective, political purges – essentially, the sudden removal of rivals, real or perceived – appear short-sighted. In this case, one could argue that Edgar’s decision to throw out his competitors from the Patriotic Front and dismiss many civil servants believed not to be serving his personal interests could stoke a backlash against him, creating a broad coalition of the walking-wounded politicians and bureaucrats to oppose his leadership. And indeed, the current hounding out of the Patriotic Front of Edgar’s competitors do not augur well for his party and the country in the long run. But for leaders like Edgar, the long run is no further off than the next threat to his hold on power.
Edgar evidently sees political opponents everywhere. And the best way to suppress them is to isolate or even eliminate the opposition within and outside the Patriotic Front.