THE Economics Intelligence Unit expects this year’s elections to be the last in which the country’s main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema is contesting.
In its latest report on Zambia generated on March 30, 2021, the Economics Intelligence Unit (EIU) believes that because Hichilema has already failed in five previous elections, there may not be need for him to stand again in 2026.
“The presidential and legislative elections that are scheduled for August 12th, 2021 are likely to be
the last polls that Mr Hichilema will contest as opposition leader, as he has lost five previous
presidential polls, including two unscheduled elections that were prompted by the deaths of
presidents in 2008 and 2014,” the EIU notes.
“The previous presidential election, in 2016, was won by the incumbent President, Edgar Lungu, in disputed circumstances, and marred by pre- and post-election violence. Mr Lungu’s government’s subsequent authoritarian behaviour towards
Mr Hichilema gave credence to the opposition candidate’s claims that he was the rightful victor of the 2016 poll, and this has proved sufficient to win his party’s united backing for one last attempt to unseat Mr Lungu.”
The EIU highlights several fears that the Zambian public have expressed against the ruling party.
It adds that given a free and fair environment, Hichilema’s chances of unseating President Edgar Lungu are high.
“The President and the ruling party, the Patriotic Front (PF), are accused of attempting to influence the outcome of the 2021 polls in advance, using their control of Zambia’s institutions and security services. However, tough economic times, high unemployment and soaring poverty have heightened voter discontent,” the EIU notes.
“The government is also facing opposition accusations of marginalising minority ethnic groups through presidential government appointees, which may force it to rely more upon (and therefore appease) its core voters in provinces such as the Copperbelt. As the country’s desperate economic circumstances have sapped the PF and Mr Lungu’s popularity with ordinary Zambians across ethnic lines, Mr Hichilema’s chances of unseating them in a free and fair election would be high.”
The EIU however maintains that President Lungu and the PF could win, a similar prediction they consistently gave about then president Rupiah Banda in 2011 who ended up losing to Michael Sata.
The EIU bases its argument on the PF’s “control of the security services and incumbency advantages to further weaken Zambian democracy”.
“Zambia’s score in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index has continued to decline since 2014; in 2020 it fell to its lowest level since the index began in 2006. It currently remains classed as a ‘hybrid regime’ combining the characteristics of an autocracy and a democracy, but the trend towards authoritarianism has accelerated drastically under Mr Lungu,” the EIU adds.
And the EIU expects increased public hostility towards Chinese influence on the country.
It spells out several other challenges the current government is likely to face from voters ahead of the general election.
“The impact of an ongoing recession, initially sparked by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and later aggravated by a formal default on Zambia’s sovereign debt to its Eurobond holders in mid-November 2020, represents a challenge to the survival of the increasingly embattled regime. Public hostility towards the growing influence of China, Zambia’s main creditor, is high with the perceived influence of China in Zambian policymaking widely resented (especially given rising concerns about economic mismanagement under Mr Lungu),” the EIU states. “Anti-Chinese sentiment is likely to soar in 2021 if Chinese companies (many of which are state-backed) seize assets as part of a restructuring arrangement, triggering unrest. Intensifying public
frustrations, Zambia will inevitably need to embark on a course of painful fiscal austerity in the near term while the debt issue is being resolved and Zambia is cut off from external funds (which had been the driving force behind an infrastructure programme in recent years).”
Meanwhile, the EIU predicts that the run-up to the 2021 legislative and presidential elections would be a particularly unstable period.
“We expect a vulnerable PF to be forced to rely more on Zambia’s partisan security forces to aggressively narrow the political space in its favour in the approach to the elections,” states the EIU. “This will aggravate pre-existing political tensions with opposition supporters that date back to the disputed 2016 elections, which supporters of the main opposition party, the United Party for National Development (UPND), believe were stolen. The possibility of election-related violence in 2021 is also high.”