Lungu makes history – Most popular Zambian politician ever
By Kelara Khumalo and Tileni Mongudhi
ZAMBIAN President Edgar Lungu has become statistically Zambia’s most popular President EVER – after an unprecedented election victory which saw a record number of Zambians casting their ballots.
Lungu, an accidental President who was thrust into the leadership of the Patriotic Front (PF) following the death of President Michael Sata in October 2014, before winning a presidential by-election last year, was swept back into power with 1,860,877 votes.
It was the highest winning tally of any Zambian politician since the country of 14.5 million people gained its independence from former colonial power, Britain, in 1964.
The late former President Frederick Chiluba, whose winning margin of 76 percent in 1991 for the MMD was the highest since Zambia became a multi-party democracy, did so with just 972,212 votes, vanquishing the founding President Kenneth Kaunda and his UNIP, who polled 311,022 votes.
Chiluba was returned to power for a second term with 73 percent of the vote in 1996, but yet again he polled less than a million, with 913,770 rooting for him.
But even as Lungu made history, his main challenger, Hakainde Hichilema, of the United Party for National Development (UPND), was also piling on the numbers, running him close with 1,760,347 votes.
Lungu avoided a run-off election after meeting the new constitutional requirement that a winning candidate must at least get 50 percent plus one vote of the total ballots cast, a departure from the first-past-the-post system the country used in previous elections. Lungu was ahead with 50.3 percent of the valid votes cast, against Hichilema’s 47.67 percent.
The unprecedented voter turnout was credited to the two main parties’ ability to excite over a million young new voters. The voters’ roll ballooned from 5,166,088 registered voters in the 2015 presidential election to 6,698,372 on election eve – a gain of 1,532,284 new voters.
Zambians went to the polls on August 11, but results were slow coming, with the Electoral Commission of Zambia finally declaring Lungu the winner on August 15, even as the UPND cried foul, claiming vote rigging. Zambia’s constitution says the President should be sworn in within seven days of the announcement of results, and on Wednesday Dr Ronald Msiska, the Secretary to the Cabinet, announced that President-elect Lungu will take his oath on Tuesday, August 23.
The UPND, however, will try and delay Lungu’s swearing in as it prepares a court challenge, claiming rigging. The UPND is joined in its action by the United National Independence Party (Unip) led by Tilyenji Kaunda, which is also challenging the presidential poll and questioning the integrity of the electoral process. Six other opposition party leaders, who participated in the presidential elections, conceded defeat and endorsed the result. Former First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa, wife of the late President Levy Mwanawasa, conceded defeat in Lusaka where she ran for mayor. The UPND went to court with an urgent court application as the vote count was underway, alleging rigging and claiming that the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ)’s server at the results centre was hacked by people known to the party. The party also alleged that ECZ head, Priscilla Isaac, personally allowed the hackers into the server room.
The UPND was initially asking the court to prevent the ECZ to continue announcing election results until a process of recounting and verifying ballot papers from a number of constituencies in the Lusaka Province was completed.
It also wanted a forensic audit and investigation conducted on the ECZ server at the results centre and that ECZ head Isaac and two senior officials be barred from taking further part in the electoral process.
The opposition party has now been granted leave to apply to the High Court for a review of the vote counting process. The UPND’s insistence that the election was flawed started even before a single ballot was cast. On the eve of the elections, Hichilema and the UPND wrote a letter to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, asking for the UN’s intervention to stop the elections. He was alleging that Lungu’s government was a threat to democracy and the rule of law in Zambia following isolated incidents of pre-election violence. Legal and political analysts, however, say the UPND has little chance of overturning the results. Lungu’s supporters, dressed in white and green – the PF’s colours – took to the streets of the capital Lusaka on Monday to celebrate their leader’s victory. The PF is seen as a party for the poor in Zambia. Lungu’s victory, however, will highlight the old age problem of ethnic and tribal voting in Zambia. The PF swept all the parliamentary seats in the north, while the UPND answered in kind in the southern half of the country. Born to the Nsenga tribe, Lungu, who hails from the eastern part of the country, was imperious in his home area, also sweeping the capital Lusaka, the Copperbelt and the Bemba-speaking rural communities of Luapula, Muchinga and Northern provinces.
The late President Sata, who anointed Lungu, was a Bemba.
In the South, Hichilema – a Tonga who had formed alliances with leaders from other tribes including the Lozi – was strong in the Western, North-Western and Central provinces.
Lungu campaigned on the slogan ‘One Zambia, One Nation’, as did the founding father Kenneth Kaunda years before him – but uniting Zambia has proved to be a daunting challenge.
Two years ago, Lungu – a 60-year-old lawyer and father of six – was a popular but low-ranking PF Member of Parliament holding the post of Minister of Home Affairs in Sata’s government. Shortly before Sata died, he removed his secretary general Wynter Kabimba and replaced him with Lungu. Later that year, when Sata was flown to the United Kingdom for medical attention and eventually died there, he left Lungu in charge of government, overlooking then Deputy President Guy Scott.
After Sata’s death, Lungu allowed Scott to act as the country’s President for four months pending elections, which Lungu went on to win, again beating Hichilema by a narrow margin. Lungu polled 807,925 votes to Hichilema’s 780,168, representing a vote share of 48.33 to 46.67 percent for the loser. Prominent PF leaders – including Scott, Kabimba, Geoffrey Mwamba and Sata’s son Mulenga Sata – all left the PF in protest.
Mwamba, Scott and Sata jumped ship and supported Hichilema in this election. Mwamba was Hichilema’s running mate, and would have assumed the vice presidency if the UPND had prevailed.