BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA/LORRAINE MUROMO
MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa yesterday said he was smelling the “sweet scent of victory” for his party in the 2023 elections inspired by Zambia opposition chief Hakainde Hichilema’s win over the repressive Edgar Lungu.
Hichilema ended Lungu’s increasingly autocratic six-year reign with 2 810 757 votes to the outgoing leader’s 1 814 201 votes. Lungu conceded defeat.
Chamisa yesterday told NewsDay that he was confident that the same electoral feat could be accomplished by his party in Zimbabwe, adding that the Zambian situation had given him hope that victory was possible even over repressive regimes.
“Africa must have a new record of having credible elections, where blood is not shed on the basis of contestation. Zambian elections are a positive indicator of a new Africa and smooth transitions and institutions strong enough to bring change. Gone are the days where big men entered a new dispensation of ideas.
“What we are seeing now is a new federation of democracy, citizen participation in defining the destiny of nations. It started in Malawi and swept into Zambia and now we can smell the sweet scent here in Zimbabwe. It is coming,” Chamisa said.
Soon after the Zambian election results were announced, the MDC Alliance secretary for international affairs, Gladys Hlatywayo issued a statement saying Hichilema’s resounding victory by more than one million votes was a triumph for democracy in light of the growing authoritarian consolidation in countries such as Zimbabwe and eSwatini.
“The UPND (United Party for National Development) is our sister party and we have exchanged notes over the years to further the cause of democracy and good governance in our respective nations,” read the MDC Alliance statement.
But political analysts said it was wrong to compare Zambia and Zimbabwe as the two countries were operating under different political systems, with different electoral bodies, a different military set up and a different judicial system.
“There is utterly no connection between the Zambian and Zimbabwean political situation. It is just euphoria. Zimbabwe has complex electoral challenges which are not being encountered in Zambia,” analyst Alexander Rusero said.
Rusero said Hichilema was a successful business tycoon who had money to fund his own political party, unlike the opposition in Zimbabwe which was broke and relied on external funding.
“Unlike the UPND which has endured despite losing elections six times, the opposition in Zimbabwe has been characterised by chain splits, and there is no perseverance to unite. For the first time since the formation of the vibrant opposition MDC party in 1999, we are going into an election in 2023 with a heavily fractured opposition party. This puts them at a disadvantage in confronting Zanu PF,” Rusero said.
He said unlike Lungu in Zambia, Zanu PF was not a party willing to transfer power smoothly.
“In Zambia, the army demonstrated that it could adhere to its constitutional mandate of serving the people and performing the security duties impartially without aligning itself to any political party. In Zimbabwe, it is difficult to distinguish between an army officer and a politician. For us to be like Zambia, we need mechanisms, and a political infrastructure to enhance smooth transfer of power,” he said.
Analyst Rashweat Mukundu said: “The inspiration from Zambia is that change is possible and sometimes under difficult circumstances. What made change possible in Zambia is also the independence of State institutions, including the Electoral Commission of Zambia and the Judiciary, which is something we don’t have in Zimbabwe.”
Mukundu said apart from the independence of State institutions, Zimbabwean citizens should register to vote in their numbers as manipulation was easier during voter apathy.
Human Rights Watch southern Africa director Dewa Mavhinga said: “Zambia’s democracy is more mature than Zimbabwe’s. Smooth transition has never happened in Zimbabwe where the military is deeply entrenched in electoral and political affairs and is a barrier to credible, free and fair elections. The Zambian security forces are non-partisan compared to their politicised Zimbabwean counterparts.”
Mavhinga said if the opposition wanted to win, it should ensure full deployment of polling agents throughout the country.
“Hichilema’s party had polling agents in 99% of the polling stations to closely observe and prevent any rigging. Zambia had a huge voter turnout at over 70%, with many of them being youths,” Mavhinga said.
Opposition National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) leader Lovemore Madhuku described the Zambian elections as “a deepening of democracy in Sadc and in Africa, where the majority of voters freely voted against an incumbent and that verdict is respected”.
“Secondly, losing candidates have not only conceded defeat, but have gone further to urge unity and progress. Thirdly, the new Zambian President (Hichilema) was a long-standing opposition leader who had contested in previous elections without success, but persisted until his day came.”
Madhuku said Hichilema’s party did not start as the biggest opposition, but through successive elections it grew to produce a President and a government.
He said the NCA was keenly studying the developments with encouragement and enthusiasm.
“We have to learn the correct lessons from Zambia not the misdirected view that an opposition victory in Zambia automatically translates to the victory of the opposition everywhere,” he said.
Another analyst Vivid Gwede said the Zambian election should set a precedent in the Sadc region that there should be smooth transfer of power.
“However, a democratic transition and consolidation in Zimbabwe can only be possible if key State institutions respect the Constitution and embrace, rather than criminalise democratic contestation,” Gwede said, adding that Zimbabwean citizens were yearning for change.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba took to Twitter where he claimed that Lungu government’s huge external debt had influenced his ouster.
“The fatal chink in the armour of former President Lungu was borrowing heavily to finance infrastructure. As a result, Zambia’s debt moved from US$3 billion when he took over to the present US$18 billion which he now leaves on the desk. Zambia defaulted on her debt payment, giving IMF (International Monetary Fund) excuse to withdraw balance of payments support. Once that happened, former President Lungu was walking on a limp electorally,” Charamba tweeted.
He said Zambia’s debt trap enabled intrusive influence on the body-politic.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwean business tycoon Strive Masiyiwa toasted the smooth transfer of power in Zambia.
“By any electoral precedent, this is a landslide victory rarely seen these days. I would also like to commend outgoing President Edgar Lungu for the manner in which he conceded the election: As I told a friend in America, it was a bit of African class,” Masiyiwa said.