By Nicholas Phiri
The Chipata Central, Solwezi East and Kafulafuta parliamentary by- election results sprung a “Don’t Kubeba” surprise on the ruling Patriotic Front which had up to this point been on a winning streak. Results from the three parliamentary by-elections which went in favor of the opposition camp invoked myriad reactions from both politicians and political commentators.
Some commentators suggested that the PF may be standing on sinking sand in as far as political fortunes are concerned, while the PF itself has turned to the courts of law in the bid to reclaim what could not be claimed through the ballot. With the public opinion about the judiciary at its lowest, the nation is anxiously waiting for the outcome of the current judicial review on the three seats.
Although the loss by the PF in Kafulafuta, Chipata Central and Solwezi East provide preliminary indicators on the direction of the political development in the country, it is too early to make concrete and conclusive analysis on the political status of the Patriot Front.
However, given the impressive political demeanor and credentials that PF’s Lameck Mangani entered the Chipata Central contest with, the PF loss to MMD’s Mutolo Phiri provides a useful insight into the emerging dissatisfaction among the general public with the ruling party. It also signifies what is likely to happen across the nation if the current arrogance by the PF regime is not termed.
Overall, the Chipata Central election result was a clear indictment and protest vote against the PF’s perceived insensitivity, arrogance and political egocentrism.
It was expected that election results in Malambo, Mukaika, Petauke Central and Mulobezi would provide minimum data to be used as a barometer for informed analysis on the evolving political dynamics obtaining at grass root level. In Eastern Province, the mood among the electorates suggests that Petauke Central and Mukaika by-elections would have replicated the Chipata Central election outcome had the elections proceeded as initially planned.
This would have definitely been catastrophic to the PF’s political standing in the public eye at national level as well as a major drawback in as far as the PF agenda for parliamentary dominance is concerned.
Unfortunately the Malambo, Petauke and Mulobezi parliamentary seats are subjects of a court process, leaving Mukaika only. Can the ruling PF grab Mukaika? The mood among the electorates in Mukaika indicates that Mukaika will be an up-hill battle for the PF and Mr. David Phiri.
The Mukaika parliamentary seat fell vacant following the defection of Mr. David Phiri from the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy to the Patriotic Front. Mr. David Phiri served as Mukaika area Member of Parliament under the MMD for seven years since 2006.
His contender from the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, Peter Phiri a well respected and renowned business man in Katete with a humble political demeanor and credentials has very high chances of scooping the seat.
There are a number of factors that jeopardize David Phiri’s chances of scooping the Mukaika seat including his poor performance as an immediate past Member of Parliament, the arrogance of the PF national leadership, and the psychological effect on Mukaika voters from the Chipata Central verdict and protest vote against the ruling PF.
On paper, having been a Member of Parliament for Mukaika for seven years, Mr. David Phiri’s campaign would have been the easiest to conduct as he would simply be pointing to his performance during his seven year reign.
Unfortunately, Mr. David Phiri has nothing to show for his seven years as a parliamentary representative of the people of Mukaika. In fact, Mr. David Phiri was due for eviction in 2011 had it not been for Rupiah Banda who to a large extent influenced his re-election.
The PF candidate in Mukaika, like many other members of parliament was an absent Landlord who did and does not have any form of connection and contact with the people of Mukaika.
Mr. Phiri abandoned and never visited his constituency throughout his reign. In 2011, instead of embracing those who did not voted for him, the PF candidate went on rampage snubbing them and making them feel foolish, much to the disappointment of electorates in Mukaika. Mr. David Phiri is a nomad among his people.
Secondly, there is a growing national opinion and consensus among both PF and non PF members that the top PF leadership is too arrogant and obstinate to listen to advice from the grassroots.
Unfortunately, this feeling and opinion seem to be spreading faster and deeper not only among the ranks and file of the PF, but among ordinary citizens too. An interaction with voters in three wards in Mukaika constituency substantiated the fact that electorates in Mukaika also hold a view that PF lacks humility to listen to advice.
As if to rub salt to injury, the PF national leadership defied the wishes of the District and Provincial officials by adopting David Phiri who was not any where near the favorite candidate in Mukaika at District and Provincial level.
The National leadership disregard of the wishes of the grass root structures and imposing of a candidate will definitely trigger a protest vote from PFs own lieutenants much to the disadvantage of the already weak PF candidate. Already, some PF cadres are campaigning for Mr. Peter Phiri of the MMD to express their displeasure at the adamancy of the PF’s leadership. This was also the case in Chipata Central.
Thirdly, the combined effect of PFs loss in Chipata Central and the consequent challenge of the election result in the courts of law may work against the PF in the forthcoming by election in Mukaika as the electorate now feel that they are being taken for granted by the ruling party.
There is already growing fatigue and apathy among voters in as far these by elections are concerned with the PF being blamed for causing unnecessary “stupid” by elections. Psychologically, the Chipata Central results are most likely to influence voters in Mukaika to repeat a protest vote against the PF.
Politicians should not underestimate the current levels of civic education and awareness among the general populace. The PF in particular should not forget the protest vote that ejected the MMD from power. This trend is likely to be a prominent feature in many more elections to come in our country including parliamentary by elections.
Voting is no longer confined to and exclusively influenced by partisan arrangements but increasingly by the capability and caliber of candidates and the developmental agenda being pursued.
The PF candidate in Mukaika lacks political credentials desired for the electorate to give him a third chance while the PF itself as a party is increasingly being looked at as a disoriented party filled with egocentrism. With this in mind, it is difficulty to see how the PF would win the Mukaika seat. All factors being equal, unless, divine favor falls on the PF, the party might as well forget about Mukaika.