[DISCLAIMER: All opinions expressed in this article are entirely mine and do not reflect the opinions or position of Zambia Online or any of its affiliates. I am not a member of, nor do I represent any political party.]
Someone once asked me an interesting question. Why did Zambians in 2011 bypass United Party for National Development (UPND) President Hakainde Hichilema and opt to vote for Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front (PF) as president of Zambia? The question becomes more consequential when you consider that 54% of total registered voters in 2011 were youths, aged 18-35. Copperbelt and Lusaka Province, the two biggest and most educated voting blocks that account for 31% of the electorate (combined) had 56% youths. So why did this majority youthful voting block refuse to identify with Hichilema who is relatively young (49 in 2011), a successful businessman, vibrant and intelligent, but opted for a 74 year man from the freedom-fighter generation?
The table below shows results of the presidential elections from 2001 to 2011. The late founder and first UPND president Anderson Mazoka got 27% in the 2001 election. Hichilema his successor got 25% in 2006, 20% in 2008 and 18% in 2011. Sata got 3% (2001), 29% (2006), 38% (2008) and 42% (2011). The MMD candidates, Levy Mwanawasa in 2001/2006 and Rupiah Banda in 2008/2011 got 29% (2001), 43% (2006), 40% (2008) and 36% (2011).
The 2001 election voting was massively fragmented, owing to the large number of candidates (eleven). This was (among other reasons) due to the emergence of other parties as viable alternatives to the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democrary (MMD), the fallout from a huge split and expulsions within MMD of many prominent big-wigs and the general uncertainty surrounding the stepping down of the then Republican President Frederick Chiluba who it was believed wanted to change the Constitution and run for a third term. The eventual winner Mwanawasa got into State House with a mere 29% of the vote (two percent higher than Mazoka) in a hotly disputed result that triggered an election petition in court which was subsequently thrown out.
By 2006, there was a consolidation of the Zambian electorate around three parties (MMD, PF and UPND). Most of the 2001 candidates became irrelevant five years later, leaving Hichilema (UPND), Mwanawasa (MMD) and Sata (PF) as the “Big Three”, accounting for 97% of the vote in 2006. In 2001, Christon Tembo of the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD), Tilyenji Kaunda of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) and Godfrey Miyanda of the Heritage Party (HP) had produced 31% between them. The combined vote without MMD, PF and UPND came to 41%. Mwanawasa gained 14 percentage points to get to 43% in 2006. Sata gained the most, moving from 3% to 29% and overtaking Hichilema who dropped to 25% from Mazoka’s 27%.
I posit that Sata’s dramatic gains in 2006 were largely driven by two factors. Firstly, the 31% “Eastern vote” (Kaunda, Miyanda and Tembo) from 2001 largely shifted to Sata because Northeners and Easterners are traditional cousins. Secondly, there was confusion and a dramatic split in the UPND when Hichilema succeeded Mazoka after his death in 2006, amid accusations (which persist to date) that UPND was a tribal party meant for Tongas. The UPND became weakened as some big-wigs exited such as Sakwiba Sikota who had been the Vice-President for 8 years. Others that left UPND for various reasons were Given Lubinda and Robert Sichinga and they joined the PF, further strengthening it (as did other former MMD big-wigs like current Vice-President Guy Scott). Sata being a successful well-connected businessman also played a part in his ascendancy.
After the vote consolidation of 2006, the subsequent gains and losses among the Big Three were more modest. In the 2008 presidential By-Election prompted by the death of Mwanawasa, UPND lost 5%, MMD lost 3% and PF gained 9% (the combined votes of the Big Three increased to 98% from 97%). MMD and UPND “donated” the combined 8% they had dropped to the PF who also picked up 1% from the other small parties. UPND was the biggest loser in 2008. Three years later in 2011, Sata became president after getting another “donation” of 4 percentage points that took him to 42%. Banda dropped 4% and Hichilema lost 2%, with the combined votes of the Big Three dropping from 98% to 96%. Nevers Mumba succeeded Banda as the MMD president in 2012 to join the ranks of the Big Three.
The three sets of results from 2006 to 2011 suggest that to win a Zambian presidential election, a candidate must get around 40%. All the new political parties formed in the last ten years have had little traction with Zambian voters, remaining stuck at less than 5% of the vote in 3 consecutive election cycles. It seems unlikely this will significantly change by 2016, unless there are some game-changing events in the interim. It appears very likely that in the 2016 elections, votes will again be shuffled among the Big Three.
Of course it is entirely possible that the smaller parties such as Charles Milupi’s Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD), Edith Nawakwi’s FDD or the National Restoration Party (NAREP) under Elias Chipimo Jr could increase their combined total beyond 5% if disaffected voters begin to give them serious consideration. It seems unlikely they will go beyond 10%, unless some strong new unforeseen factor works in their favour.
[In Part Two next week, I discuss the viability of each of the “Big Three” 2016 presidential candidates]