SISHUWA Sishuwa alleges that President Edgar Lungu has devised two ways of ensuring that he remains in power after the 2021 elections.
In his article published in the latest edition of South Africa’s Mail &Guardian newspaper, Dr Sishuwa, a historian and lecturer at the University of Zambia, explains that President Lungu wants to also block his main challenger, Hakainde Hichilema.
The article, titled: This is how President Lungu is planning to rig Zambia’s 2021 general elections, details the Head of State’s other suspected rigging schemes, in collaboration with the Electoral Commission of Zambia.
“The first mechanism Lungu created to shape the outcome of the 2021 presidential election is an amendment to the Constitution that enables the formation of a coalition government if none of the candidates gets more than 50 per cent of the total valid votes cast. The Constitution currently allows a second ballot between the top two candidates,” he explained. “Lungu barely scraped a victory in the last general election in 2016, winning by 50.3 per cent. This time, he is not taking any chances. His governing Patriotic Front (PF) party has taken to Parliament a Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill Number 10 of 2019 which proposes another stage to Zambia’s election between the first vote and a potential run-off. In this middle stage, if no presidential candidate has won more than 50 per cent in the first round, then the leading candidate, but no other candidate, could propose a coalition with a losing candidate of their choice, with the only requirement being that ‘the combined votes of that presidential candidate and the preferred presidential candidate forming the coalition government meet the threshold of form than 50 per cent of the valid votes cast’.”
Dr Sishuwa stated that President Lungu anticipates a failure to marshal the required votes, hence the scheme to change the Constitution.
“It retains the existing constitutional provision on the run-off, but only if the presidential candidate with the highest number of votes fails to form a coalition government within the specified time period. This suggests Lungu is anticipating another close election where he may emerge with more votes than his rivals but fall short of the required 50 per cent + 1 vote threshold,” Dr Sishuwa explained. “In this instance, just an extra two per cent or three per cent may be needed to form a winning majority. This will probably come from smaller, Lungu-friendly parties that are in opposition in name only. Their votes total may be tiny, but this amendment could turn them into kingmakers. The much-criticised Bill requires the support of two-thirds of the MPs to pass. If all MPs from the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) manage to remain resilient to bribery, the Bill won’t be passed.”
Dr Sishuwa disclosed the second step in the rigging scheme.
“The second way Lungu is rigging the election is by abolishing the current voters’ register, numbering six million electors, and creating a new one favourable to his prospects. Senior figures in the PF said Lungu is afraid he will lose the 2021 poll if the voters’ roll used in the last general election is not discarded. His fears are not unfounded,” Dr Sishuwa wrote. “He was first elected in the 2015 presidential by-election that followed Michael Sata’s untimely death in office. He was re-elected in the disputed 2016 polls, narrowly defeating Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the UPND. In both elections, Lungu finished first in the same six of Zambia’s 10 provinces and Hichilema finished first in four provinces. Lungu knows he is in trouble because Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) data shows that voter turnout was, on average, higher in the regions won by his rival compared with those that voted for him.”
He explained that ECZ sources complained about pressure allegedly exerted on the institution by President Lungu to get rid of the old voter’s register.
Dr Sishuwa stated that President Lungu had been more scared by his loss of support on the Copperbelt and in Lusaka due to the shrinking economy.
“Sources in the commission said Lungu exerted significant pressure on the electoral body to abolish the permanent register rather than updating it, as required by law, and as has been done in each election since 2005 when it was first created. The electoral commission announced in June that it would discard the register…By using the commission this way, Lungu hopes to disenfranchise as many opposition supporters as possible,” Dr Sishuwa argues. “Three of the four provinces in which Hichilema retains huge support, for instance, are in rural areas. Limited publicity about the commission’s plans to abolish the existing register, the long distances to the nearest administrative centres, the onset of the rainy season (which starts in late October), and the limited time available to complete the exercise will undermine the capacity of voters in these areas to take part in the voter registration. Moreover, the commission has admitted that the government has not provided it with sufficient funds for the exercise.”
He further stated that President Lungu had a third plan up his sleeves.
“Taken together, these developments suggest that Lungu is, in effect, establishing the administrative, legal and constitutional mechanism for perpetuating his stay in office. Should his two main strategies fail, he is reported to have another card up his sleeve: strike a major blow against the opposition using electoral exclusion,” stated Dr Sishuwa. “Recent weeks have seen intense speculation in local media that Lungu harbours plans to arrest Hichilema on a trumped-up charge. If there is substance to this allegation, the objective would presumably be to secure a dubious conviction that would disqualify his main rival from the 2021 race. The shrunken space for civil society to mobilise against his illegitimate actions, the weaknesses of the political opposition and the willingness of the judiciary to bow to presidential power mean that he is likely to succeed in his attempt to fix the outcome of next year’s election.”