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Why Nawakwi and Tilyenji should give way to fresh legs in 2021

[By Parkie Mbozi]

THE United National Independence Party (UNIP), Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), United Party for National Development (UPND), Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) and the Patriotic Front (PF) are Zambia’s oldest political parties (in that order) from the pack of parties that have been competing for power in the last 20 years.

And Tilyenji Kaunda of UNIP and Edith Nawakwi of FDD are the longest serving opposition leaders, having been at the helm of their parties since 2001 and 2005, respectively. The political fortunes of the PF and UPND have been on the rise in the last 10 years to the extent that PF is now in power and UPND as its closest and fiercest rival. MMD ruled until 2011.

The opposite can be said about UNIP and FDD. They are parties that have progressively been on the downhill with miserable performances during the last four elections. Collectively, their leaders – Tilyenji, son of first Republican president Dr Kenneth Kaunda, and Nawakwi – amassed a paltry 33,077 votes during the 2016 general elections. Contrast to 1,860,877 votes polled by Edgar Lungu of the PF and 1,760,347 for Hakainde Hichilema of the UPND.

Going by their downward fortunes and miserable performances in four presidential elections in succession, it can be logically argued that it is time Tilyenji and Nawakwi gave chance to new and emerging political opportunists to try their luck in the already crowded presidential field.

In this article, I highlight the dwindling political fortunes of the FDD and UNIP and their presidential candidates to buttress the argument. Some observers say that Nawakwi’s recent attacks on fellow opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema are her strategy to repackage herself for the attention of other takers, especially the PF. However, I will stick to my lane as a researcher: numbers. They say, “numbers don’t lie.”

It can also be argued that MMD’s Nevers Mumba has likewise miserably failed two elections (2015 and 2016). To his favour, a counter argument can be proffered that on both occasions he had internal detractors in Rupiah Banda in 2015 and Felix Mutati in 2016. So, 2021 will be the first time he will enter the race with a united (whatever is left of) MMD. I agree 100 per cent.

UNIP is Zambia’s oldest surviving political party. I say surviving because the oldest political party in the history of this country was the African National Congress (ANC), which closed shop after the signing of the unity accord in 1972. The accord heralded the one-party participatory ‘democracy’. UNIP is also the oldest existing opposition party and Tilyenji is the longest serving opposition leader, having been at the helm since 2001, following the death of Francis Nkhoma.
UNIP governed the country from 1964 to 1991 and Kaunda had been at its helm since its founding in 1960. It ceded power in 1991 to the newly launched MMD, whose candidate Frederick Chiluba polled a whopping 76 percent to Kaunda’s 24 percent. The MMD won 125 of the 150 elected seats in the National Assembly. Eighteen of UNIP’s 25 were in the Eastern Province where the party retained all the seats. The result effectively consigned UNIP as a regional party and reconfirmed the Eastern Province as the most conservative, having done the same in 1963.

Kaunda stepped down as president of UNIP in 1992, following the party’s famous Namayani congress during which Kebby Sililo Kambu Musokotwane was elected president of the party, with Kaunda’s support. In 1993 Musokotwane and Kaunda differed after the former admitted that a radical faction of the party was conspiring to topple the new government of Chiluba. Kaunda and UNIP viewed this as a betrayal of the party and its ‘comrades’. For the next two years Musokotwane led a shaky and divided UNIP such that when Kaunda announced plans for a political comeback, Musokotwane was shunned by Kaunda’s loyalists and party elders. He was forced to step down in 1993 as Kaunda retook the leadership with Chief Inyambo Yeta as his vice, when the logical thing would have been for him to support another young leader. Kaunda was hoping to bounce back to power during the 1996 election. Big mistake.

Sensing ‘danger’, ‘political engineer’ Chiluba used MMD’s overwhelming majority in parliament, in May 1996, to push through controversial constitutional amendments, specifically the parentage clause and the provision that prohibited traditional chiefs from participating in active politics. The parentage clause effectively eliminated Kaunda, whose parents hailed from Nyasaland (Malawi), from the 1996 general elections. Yeta was equally also barred by the traditional leaders’ clause. As a result, UNIP boycotted the elections, allowing Chiluba to be easily re-elected with 73 percent of the vote. This was a tactical miscalculation on UNIP’s part as it allowed MMD, which did not win a single seat in the Eastern province in 1991, to enter its ‘bedroom’ unchallenged.

As Elias Munshya writes, “With the loss of that Eastern region came the rapid fall of a party that once led Zambia into independence. Ironically, the same man who built UNIP to its climax in the 1960s also presided over its downfall in the 1990s. With that 1996 boycott, Kenneth Kaunda hammered the last nail in UNIP’s coffin.”

The party returned to contest the 2001 elections with Tilyenji as its presidential candidate; he received 10 percent of the vote, finishing fourth out of the eleven candidates. In the National Assembly, the party won 13 seats, majority in the Eastern Province, and 10.6 percent of the popular vote. That was the last time it ever had seats in Parliament as a single entity.

Prior to the 2006 elections the party joined the United Democratic Alliance alongside the other two largest opposition parties, FDD and UPND. Hakainde Hichilema of the UPND was the alliance’s presidential candidate, finishing third with 25 percent of the vote. The alliance won just 26 seats in the National Assembly. The vast majority were contributed by UPND, with UNIP contributing only Mkhondo Lungu of Lundazi.

Tilyenji and UNIP did not contest the 2008 presidential by-election, but he was nominated as UNIP’s presidential candidate for the 2011 elections. Since then, Tilyenji has contested the Republican presidency three times (2011, 2015 and 2016) but each time losing miserably with less than one percent of the total vote (0.36% in 2011; 0.58% in 2015; and 0.24% in 2016). In both 2011 and 2016, UNIP failed to win a single seat in the National Assembly.

With these dwindling fortunes, Tilyenji’s continued participation in elections cannot be justifiable anymore. What is worse, the party does not seem to be in politics for the business of politics. Tilyenji and UNIP are hardly heard commenting on national matters in between elections. Analysts have argued that UNIP exists simply for the sake of its business interests that its leaders hold under Zambia National Holdings Limited. That explains the current court wrangles between 11 members and four of Tilyenji’s cohorts over lack of intraparty elections since 2005 and alleged sale of named party assets without membership approvals.

Nawakwi and her FDD are in the same place as UNIP and barely racing for relevance amid declining political fortunes and miserable performances over the last series of elections. The FDD was founded in 2001 by former MMD members disaffected by Chiluba’s efforts to change the constitution to allow him to stand for a third term. In the 2001 general elections it nominated Christon Tembo as its presidential candidate; Tembo finished third in a field of 11 candidates with 13 percent of the vote. In the National Assembly elections the party won 12 seats. The FDD remarkably took control of Lusaka council between 2001 and 2006.

Nawakwi took over the FDD in 2005 after Tembo left politics. However, in 2006 the government de-registered the FDD on the grounds that it had failed to submit an annual report. The FDD subsequently joined the UDA, which put forward UPND’s Hichilema as its presidential candidate for the 2006 general elections. As reported earlier, the UDA and Hichilema finished third with 26 seats in the National Assembly. The FDD contributed only three seats.

The FDD did not nominate a candidate for the 2008 presidential by-election, but put forward Nawakwi for the 2011 general elections. She received 0.2 percent of the vote, finishing seventh out of the nine candidates. The party won a single seat in the National Assembly, Chifumu Banda in Chasefu. Nawakwi ran for the presidency again in the 2015 presidential by-election, finishing third with 0.9 percent of the vote. She ran again for the presidency at the 2016 general election where she came third, receiving a total of 24,149 votes. Nawakwi’s vote translates to 2,415 votes per province and 161 per constituency. The FDD currently holds one seat in the National Assembly. Surely the writing is on the wall, madam Nawakwi (my former boss at agriculture). Please read!

As advised by our features editor Mr Chanda, I end with some comments from readers of some of our published articles.

Dear Sir,
Greetings. I have read your wonderful article from start to finish. I must say it is one of the articles that has interested me to the point where not only did I read it from beginning to end but re-read it several times. It is succinct, clear and breaks down the flow into a manner that anyone can relate to. Well done. I would like to establish contact with you so that I can have further cooperation in some activities that I am involved in on corporate governance and research. Your vivid excellent writing skills and clear thought-pattern has attracted my attention. You may kindly get back to me on this email address for further conversation. I await to hear from you. Kind regards, Edward M. Kabwe.

Good morning Mr. Mbozi,
I did enjoy reading your article ” MMD at 30, A Once Mighty Party Ruined by Lust for Power” this evening before going to bed. It reminded me of back in the days at Co-operative College. I now stay in California, Riverside about 2 hours drive from Los Angeles though of course I do maintain a home in Lusaka. I am scheduled to return to Zambia in few days. Have a nice day. Francis.

Dear Prof,
Thank you Parkie for taking us through this important lane. I fully agree that MMD is where it is today because of the lust for power, unfortunately this has become the reality for most political parties in Zambia. My question to you and others including myself, how do we reconstruct accountable leadership that places people at the centre or the nation before profit? The power of the President can make or break #Zambia – how can we deal with this within the current constitution and placing 2021 as an opportunity for electing the leaders we deserve. Regards. Henry

The author is a media, governance and health communication researcher and scholar with the Institute of Economic and Social Research (INESOR), University of Zambia. Post comments to our online version of article or send to: pmbozi5@yahoo.com.

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