Election time in Zambia!
On 11 August 2016, Zambia’s presidential and legislative election will take place. During this national vote, Edgar Lungu, the sitting president and leader of the Patriotic Front (PF), will defend his position. I must admit, it is kind of exciting for me to experience an African election first-hand for the first time.
The main competing parties this time around are the left-wing PF and the liberal United Party for National Development (UPND) led by Hakainde Hichilema, also referred to as “HH” by Zambians. The next party in line would be the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). This party has been dominant in Zambian politics for years but has weakened over time due to internal divisions and is therefore not seen as a real threat to the PF in the current elections.
Elections in Zambia historically tend to be generally free and fair. Over the past few weeks I have gathered many views on the expected course and outcome of the upcoming elections. Although opinions differ, I have been able to draw a few conclusions.
Overall, Zambians are not sure who will win and could imagine both the PF and UPND as potential winner. This is further underpinned by a 2015 poll showing a close call between both parties with 48.3% of the votes in favor of FP front man Lungu and 46.7% for HH. However, thus far most of the campaigning noise has been coming from the PF, clearly benefitting from accessible state-owned media and public resources. Also, the biggest independent newspaper The Post was shut down by authorities over a tax dispute, seen by many as an attempt by the PF to silence it before the elections. Meanwhile, The Post has found alternative ways to print its tabloid (though limited distribution) and to get its message – at least partially – out there.
Furthermore, most people believe that this year’s election will not rank among the most peaceful ones. Violent clashes already took place in Lusaka between supporters of the PF and UPND, causing the authorities to temporarily prohibit campaigning in the capital Lusaka. However, this did not stop the PF from handing out promotional T-shirts and other merchandise in Lusaka showing Lungu’s face on it.
Also, an interesting new rule came into play in January this year requiring presidential candidates to get more than 50% of the votes in order to win. This will mean a run-off is almost unavoidable as no political party has such a dominating support group. Unfortunately, this might also lead to increased tension and potential violence according to many as the election process and final outcome in that event will take longer.
Despite of that, people seem to be pretty relaxed about the elections. Nevertheless, I am advised to stay away from the city center on 11 August and to ensure I have sufficient food and liquids to survive one week inside my house in case things do escalate. As I want to be on the safe side, I will certainly adhere to these recommendations.
Let’s hope the elections will be fair, peaceful and that promises are being kept. I will definitely keep a close watch!