Casting A Vote

Zambian Elections 2016: Analysis & Perspectives (Part 5)


[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.]

[Continued from Part Four]

Every political party uses (and misuses) the results of By-Elections to prove they are getting more popular or that another party is losing ground. Conventional wisdom suggests that By-Election results are some sort of Barometer of the way things are unfolding on the ground, especially in the latter half of a ruling party’s reign. Do By-Elections have any predictive value? What else can the results show? Included in this analysis are the results of every By-Election between 2007 and 2014. The analysis could not be done over a longer period because the Electoral Commission of Zambia does not yet readily have results available between January 2002 and December 2006.

From January 2007 to April 2014, there have been 33 By-Elections. Strictly speaking, the “real” number is 31 because Nakonde (Northern Province) and Magoye (Southern) did not vote during the 2011 Tripartite Elections on 20th September 2011. These two seats were lumped together with the Chongwe By-Election that was held in November 2011 due to the resignation of the winner (MMD candidate Japhen Mwakalombe) a week before Parliament opened. However, in this analysis, the two seats shall be treated as ordinary By-elections because voter turnout between them averaged 32%, far below the 54% turnout in the 2011 Tripartite Election. Secondly, there is an absence of some factors that occur in a Tripartite election (eg Presidential candidates being on the ballot as well).

Let us start off with where the By-Elections occurred. Eastern Province recorded the highest number of 6 By-Elections over the seven year period (2007-2014), followed by Copperbelt at 5. Western Province had only 1.

Eastern 6
Copperbelt 5
Central 4
Lusaka 4
Northern 4
North-Western 4
Southern 3
Luapula 2
Western 1


16 out of the 33 By-Elections were contested in the 5 year period between 2006 and 2011 while the other 17 in the last 3 years. This means there were an average of 3.2 By-Elections per year in the first period and the current figure is 5.7, an increase of 78%. This is totally unprecedented. There are another four seats currently vacant awaiting By-Elections and there are likely to be at least 3 more per year in the next two years if we use the average from before, meaning that there will be a total of around 27 seats re-contested by 2016, producing a final figure of 5.4 per year on average. At a minimum cost of K5m per By-Election, K135m ($21.4m @ K6.30 to $1) will be spent by 2016.

Parliamentary By-Elections (2007-2014)
Parliamentary By-Elections (2007-2014)

Out of the 33 By-Elections, the PF won almost half with 16. Their wins were spread out starting from November 2007 up to November 2013 as the most recent. MMD and UPND got the same number. The analysis gets more interesting when you look at which party won in the subsequent and preceding Tripartite Election. The following chart shows how many By-elections each of the Big Three parties won of the 33 in 2006 and in 2011.

33 By-Election Results Comparison
33 By-Election Results Comparison

MMD won 21 (64%) of the 33 in both the 2006 and 2011 Tripartite elections, yet only managed 8 (24%) in the By-Elections. Out of the 16 By-Elections between 2006 and 2011, MMD subsequently (in the 2011 elections) got 4 out of the 5 seats they had won earlier, losing in Mpulungu to PF. The PF won back all their 7 seats and got an extra one from MMD. In sharp contrast, UPND lost all their 3 By-Election wins to the MMD (Solwezi Central, Mufumbwe and Chilanga).

Rewinding backwards to the 2006 Parliamentary elections, we find that of these same 16 seats, MMD had won 7 of them. In the subsequent By-Elections, they lost 3 to the UPND and 1 to PF but gained 2 from the UPND with a final result of 5. MMD only retained 2 of these seats all the way through the two Tripartite elections (2006 and 2011) and the By-Elections (Kapoche in Eastern and Chitambo in Central), with PF maintaining 6 while UPND kept zero. UPND won 2 out of the 16 in 2006, lost both to MMD but gained 3 others from MMD with a final result of 3. PF had won 6 which they retained plus grabbing 1 more from the MMD (Mporokoso), finally winning 7 seats. In the period 2006-2011, MMD finally ended up with 7 seats after initially winning 7, UPND got zero after winning 2 while PF closed off with 8 after winning 6 in 2006. Net results: MMD 0, PF +2, UPND -2.

Date Constituency Province 2006 By-elections 2011
15 Jun 2007 Kapoche Eastern MMD 48% MMD 49% MMD 69%
8 Nov 2007 Nchanga Copperbelt PF 65% PF 69% PF 69%
21 Feb 2008 Kanyama Lusaka PF 39% PF 34% PF 53%
26 Jun 2008 Milanzi Eastern UPND 39% MMD 46% MMD 59%
30 Oct 2008 Mwansabombwe Luapula PF 67% PF 57% PF 71%
30 Oct 2008 Ndola Central Copperbelt PF 52% PF 52% PF 59%
13 Aug 2009 Chitambo Central MMD 75% MMD 56% MMD 45%
15 Oct 2009 Kasama Central Northern PF 49% PF 69% PF 83%
19 Nov 2009 Solwezi Central North-Western MMD 45% UPND 54% MMD 34%
29 Apr 2010 Mufumbwe North-Western MMD 44% UPND 50% MMD 46%
29 Apr 2010 Milanzi Eastern UPND 39% MMD 52% MMD 59%
5 Aug 2010 Luena Western ADD 55% ADD 32% ADD 37%
5 Aug 2010 Chifubu Copperbelt PF 48% PF 57% PF 56%
25 Oct 2010 Mpulungu Northern MMD 83% MMD 50% PF 53%
25 Oct 2010 Chilanga Lusaka MMD 35% UPND 59% MMD 41%
3 Mar 2011 Mporokoso Northern MMD 43% PF 51% PF 40%


After the 2011 Parliamentary Elections, there have been 17 By-Elections held up to April 2014, two of which were postponed elections. Of these, MMD won only 3, PF won 9 while UPND got 5 seats. MMD has reduced their winning rate from 31% in the previous 5 year period to 18% in the current term, PF increased from 44% to 53% while UPND has gone up from 19% to 29%. In 2011, MMD won 14 out of 15 of these seats that were on the ballot (2 out of 17 were postponed), while PF won the other one (Mansa Central). Subsequently, MMD has only retained 3 of them, PF has grabbed 7 from the MMD (retaining 1) while UPND picked up 4 from the MMD. PF and UPND have shared the two seats that were not on the ballot in 2011. MMD has lost 11 seats after the 2011 elections.

Date Constituency Province MMD PF UPND Others 2011 By-elections
24 Nov 2011 Chongwe Lusaka 0% 67% 30% 3% MMD 55% PF 67%
24 Nov 2011 Nakonde Northern 18% 77% 0% 5% N/A N/A PF 77%
24 Nov 2011 Magoye Southern 0% 29% 68% 3% N/A N/A UPND 68%
6 Jul 2012 Muchinga Central 51% 45% 0% 4% MMD 80% MMD 51%
6 Jul 2012 Chama North Eastern 26% 68% 0% 5% MMD 39% PF 68%
6 Jul 2012 Livingstone Southern 0% 40% 57% 3% MMD 26% UPND 57%
8 Nov 2012 Mufumbwe North-Western 39% 58% 0% 2% MMD 46% PF 58%
28 Feb 2013 Mpongwe Copperbelt 10% 49% 33% 9% MMD 53% PF 49%
28 Feb 2013 Livingstone Southern 10% 49% 39% 3% MMD 26% PF 49%
20 Jun 2013 Feira Lusaka 11% 64% 17% 8% MMD 48% PF 64%
25 Jul 2013 Mkushi North Central 21% 60% 14% 4% MMD 38% PF 60%
25 Jul 2013 Kafulafuta Copperbelt 0% 45% 47% 7% MMD 59% UPND 47%
25 Jul 2013 Chipata Central Eastern 55% 40% 0% 5% MMD 54% MMD 55%
25 Jul 2013 Solwezi East North-Western 0% 31% 66% 3% MMD 52% UPND 66%
5 Sep 2013 M’kaika Eastern 80% 15% 0% 5% MMD 40% MMD 80%
22 Nov 2013 Mansa Central Luapula 9% 76% 3% 13% PF 60% PF 76%
25 Feb 2014 Katuba Central 8% 29% 50% 13% MMD 45% UPND 50%


A further layer of analysis involves comparisons of the overall strength of each party in terms of the combined votes they received. The following chart shows the absolute total number of votes each party received in the 33 By-Elections combined. The PF is far ahead of all the other parties by a considerable margin. This appears to be due to the PF winning By-Elections in large constituencies (eg Livingstone, Nchanga, Ndola Central, etc).

By-Elections Total Votes Cast
By-Elections Total Votes Cast

The following chart shows how the parties fared by expressing their combined votes in all the 33 By-Elections as a percentage of total votes cast. The left part of the chart is a simple addition whereas the right side of the chart only considers votes in the constituencies where a party competed. It shows that UPND in percentage terms is just 2% behind the MMD. The discrepancy between the two sets of figures is because UPND did not compete in 13 By-Elections, compared to 5 for MMD and 4 for PF. This could be due to the UPND not having candidates that were good enough, or lack of a strong ground game.

By-Elections Average Results
By-Elections Average Results

Splitting the (right side) results into the two separate periods 2006-2011 and 2011-2014 shows that the MMD reduced its combined votes where it competed from 38% to 28%. PF increased from 39% to 50% while the UPND increased from 24% to 39%, overtaking the MMD. Interestingly the other parties combined reduced from 18% to 5%. These figures seem to suggest that being in power with access to state resources is quite a significant factor in how By-elections play out.

However, they also show that when a government is increasingly becoming unpopular in a constituency, it begins to matter less how much money they throw at a By-Election. The results of the recent By-Elections in Katuba, M’kaika and Solwezi East where the ruling party was soundly beaten seem to confirm this, although another factor could be the strength of the PF candidates. Nevertheless, one can still point out that in M’kaika, David Phiri was a very strong candidate who had won under MMD in 2011 with 40%, but was defeated when he defected and ran on PF (he got a measly 15%).

So, what does all this analysis show? The answer depends on which period you are looking at. From 2006-2011 when MMD was still in power, all three parties in the By-Elections more or less retained a similar number of seats they had initially won in 2006 after a bit of shuffling around. In 2011 after the 16 By-Elections, MMD increased its tally from 5 to 7 seats, PF increased from 7 to 8 while UPND lost 3.

The absolute number of seats any party won out of the 16 By-elections does not appear to be very useful information because most of them were merely retained after being won in the prior parliamentary election. What is more instructive is how many seats were grabbed from other parties and the net result of all the movements. PF wrestled one seat from the 7 that MMD had. MMD lost 3 to UPND but grabbed 2 from them. Net results starting from the first By-Election in June 2007 up to 2011 were: MMD +2, PF +1 and UPND -3. This suggests MMD and PF increasing in popularity (with MMD at a faster rate) while UPND was declining. The results of the 16 By-Elections seem to be inconclusive in terms of predicting the winner of the 2011 Tripartite elections.

Recent events in the dynamics of the Zambian electoral map have made the use of the last 17 By-Elections as a predictor for 2016 an exercise in complexity, even if one ignores the mixed results of the earlier 16. The following are some observations:

  1. MMD won 3 of the 17 By-elections, but did not contest 5 (Chongwe, Magoye, Livingstone, Kafulafuta and Solwezi East). When MMD was in power, it contested every single By-Election.
  2. UPND has missed out on contesting 7 By-Elections whereas the PF has contested all of them.
  3. The PF “poached” 3 MMD MPs and triggered By-Elections which they won in Mufumbwe (Stephen Masumba), Mpongwe (Gabriel Namulambe) and Feira (Patrick Ngoma).
  4. There are 6 seats that MMD lost “fair and square” (without external manipulations or abstentions). These are Nakonde, Chama North, Livingstone, Mansa Central, Mkushi North and Katuba. MMD won Mkushi North in 2011 by a 6% margin, had a different candidate in the By-Election and lost to the PF candidate who had come second previously.
  5. For the first 16 By-elections (2006-2011), voter turnout averaged 44%. The last 17 have averaged 32%. This suggests that voter fatigue has significantly crept in and the results therefore need to be taken with more than a pinch of salt.
  6. Livingstone has voted 3 times in the last 3 years. In 2011, MMD very narrowly won it with 26.1% (PF got 25.6% and UPND 23.1%). In the 2012 By-Election, MMD abstained and UPND won with 57% of the vote (PF 40%). In 2013, PF won it with 49% (MMD 10%, UPND 39%). Josephs Akafumba, the PF candidate contested and lost twice (2011 and 2012). PF changed to Lawrence Evans and won in 2013.
  7. Only MMD seats have been petitioned or nullified in court due to electoral malpractice. UPND has been spared and therefore has performed better than MMD.
  8. There has been a significant reduction in freedoms under the PF government, with all the major political party presidents being either temporarily jailed or dragged to a police station. Opposition political parties have increasingly found it difficult to hold rallies or have indoor meetings. The Press has been constantly harassed and appearing on radio interviews is becoming a hazard for presidents of opposition parties. The ruling party has however had a free hand when campaigning and has the backing of the State media and some “independent” media houses. The results of any By-Elections in this climate are therefore inherently distorted.

Returning to the question of whether these By-Election results are a reliable predictor of the 2016 Tripartite Elections, it appears the answer is inconclusive. One has to do a deeper analysis going seat by seat  and look at at the margins of the wins and losses. However, this is not necessarily reliable as the results will also depend on the candidates that are fielded by each party, how organized they are at the time, how much money they have to campaign, how unpopular the ruling party is and a whole host of other factors which act in tandem to create one massively complex analysis.

The jury is still out.

[Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four. ]

You can email me: michael at zambia dot co dot zm.


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Isn’t the reason the UPND did not take part in some by-elections because they had a pact with the MMD, and not because they could not find a good candidate?

Sophia King

good analysis


i thinks its high time we used biometric votic in africa to root out corruption and rigging of the votes