Monday, September 19, 2011

Zambia: The seeking of political alternatives

Zambia goes to the polls on the 20th September and Socialist Banner posts a background article by its regular Zambian contributer

The demise of the second republican president Fredrick Chiluba has robbed the MMD of one of its outstanding founder members.

Chiluba will be remembered for his political charisma other than for his economic policies. He died an innocent man after having been acquitted of money laundering crimes levelled against him by the lat president Levy Mwanawasa. Chiluba was given a full state funeral which lasted for seven days. When the MMD came to power in 1991 Chiluba started to dismantling the state capitalist economy then existing under the UWIP government of Kenneth Kaunda.

The MMD introduced economic liberation characterised by the liquidation of state-owned parastatal firms. Economic liberation led to the privatisation of Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines, United Bus Company of Zambia, Zambia Railways and Zambia Airways. The demise of these prestigious firms led to massive unemployment and social misery. It was only when Mwanawasa came into power in 2001-2008 that Zambia experienced some form of economic revolution.

But after having been in power for twenty years, ordinary Zambian voters are vying for a change in government – it is time for the MMD to retire. But to contemplate political change in conditions where a viable political alternative does not exist is a dangerous option.

Zambian voters are going to vote in a presidential election on 20 September this year. This year’s general election must be reckoned in terms of a political duel between the ruling MMD and the PF. Indeed the Patriotic Front has become the second largest political party in Zambia today. Thus for those who support the PF – it is now or never. In the 2008 presidential election the PF lost on a bare margin of 3690 votes against the ruling MMD.

The PF president Michael Sata is a controversial politician. He was notable when he was appointed Minister of Decentralisation in the UNIP government of Kaunda in 1980. And when the MMD came to power – Sata was able to win the confidence of Chiluba – and was appointed as Minister without Portfolio.

Thus it was a lamentable surprise when Chiluba appointed Levy Mwanawasa to be the successor in 2001. Fearing vengeance Sata resigned from the MMD and formed a new political party, the Patriotic Front. But Sata is a political nuisance – his failure to attend Chiluba’s funeral is a case in point. It completely portrayed his lack of sympathy and political virtues.

There exists a rumour that Zambia – especially Lusaka and the Copper Belt mining towns will be plunged into political uprising when the PF fails to win the election. The move by the MMD to have ballot papers printed in South Africa has been received with suspicion by the political fraternity.

But it was the presence of Kaunda of the first-ever PF political convention that sent shivers among the MMD. Kaunda himself has failed to give a public statement. The presence of Canadian and British ambassadors at the PF convention helped to boost the political profile of the Patriotic Front president Michael Sata.

The MMD president Rupiah Banda is confident of winning the election on the strength of the economic developments taking place in Zambia today. Indeed the MMD government is building roads in and sending mobile hospitals to every corner of Zambia. But the dismissal of high-ranking MMD political stalwarts (Silvia Masebo, Ngandu Magande, George Mpombo and Gabriel Namulambe) does not augur well for Banda. The PF is strongly encouraged by the Catholic clergy through Radio Icengelo and its literary periodicals.

Ethnic considerations apart – the PF has managed to penetrate Western and North-western provinces in terms of parliamentary seats.

The third and only other viable political party comes from the UPWD. Hakainde Hichilema, its president is a corporate accountant – at 44 he is the youngest and least experienced presidential aspirant. He is the adopted leader of the UPWD – he is the nephew of the late UPWD president Anderson Mazoka (disputed winner of the 2001 general election). The upped is a tribal party in the sense that it is mostly comprised of Tonga-speaking politicians. The untimely collapse of the PF-upped political pact has only helped to distance the upped.

There exists deep suspicions concerning the conduct and announcement of elections. The Environmental Council of Zambia is a state-controlled institution and therefore cannot be trusted or expected to be impartial.

We may surmise that Zambia will be plunged into a political and economic nightmare if the PF win the general election. Zambia will forfeit its short-lived economic growth gained under the leadership of Mwanawasa. Given the controversial of Michael Sata, critics of the PF will be detained or dismissed from government. Foremost among those to be intimidated will be the Chinese investors. We in the World Socialist Movement do not seek political alternatives to capitalism – apart from socialism and we urge our fellow workers in Zambia to abstain from voting for capitalism.


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