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CONCOURT’S BOMBSHELL LEAVES UPND FLAT ON ITS FACE

By MUBANGA LUCHEMBE 

The presidential eligibility petitions filed in the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) by a myriad of UPND sympathizers aimed at barring the incumbent president, Edgar Lungu, from contesting in the upcoming general elections, were bound to fail. The question was when would they fail and who would be embarrassed?

The Court’s judgment of June 11 provided the answers. It declared that President Lungu was eligible to contest the upcoming general elections. After all, that was the third time the ConCourt had ruled that he was eligible to stand as a presidential candidate. Judge Anne Sitali when delivering the abridged majority judgment declared that he was entitled to contest the elections as he had not twice held office. She stated that Article 106 did not bar him from participating in the election this year. Adding that the first respondent’s nomination was valid and he was entitled to stand for election on August 12.

However, one of the ConCourt judges, Professor Margaret Munalula, indicated that she had a dissenting judgment which she would deliver on June 30. Legal Resources Foundation (LRF), Chapter One Foundation and University of Zambia (UNZA) researcher and lecturer Sishuwa Sishuwa, through their lawyers John Sangwa and Linda Kasonde, argued that President Lungu already held office as President twice and that he was therefore, not eligible to stand in the forthcoming elections.

Not only that, researcher and lecturer at UNZA, Sishuwa Sishuwa and Lusaka lawyer Alfred
Kanda had also petitioned 16 running-mates to the presidential candidates for political parties, seeking the nullification of their nominations because they did not meet the conditions set by the Electoral Commission of Zambia when filing in their nomination papers.

As fate would have it, the ConCourt concurrently threw out this petition by UPND sympathizers that was challenging the nominations of running-mates for lack of merit – much to the embarrassment of all petitioners in both cases. The court stated that the running-mates were not supposed to pay nomination fees and also provide 100 supporters because they were merely invited by the party presidents.

Worth noting though, while for the last five years the UPND has claimed it had a water-tight case against President Lungu’s eligibility, the ConCourt’s weighty judgment was a severe embarrassment to the UPND top honchos. In the last few months, UPND’s sympathizers have had a difficult time keeping the presidential eligibility petitions together, with several of them being thrown out or withdrawn for lack of merit.

Known and unknown to many, in October 2014, the UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema reportedly attended a series of secret meetings in South Africa with a number of foreign mining businessmen and arms dealers holding similar grievances against Edgar Lungu and the ruling PF. Attendees at the meetings included Jonathan Oppenheimer, nephew of the founder of Anglo American, Greg Mills, director of Brenthurst Foundation, and Olusegun Obasanjo, ex-president of Nigeria (who also chairs Brenthurst Foundation). Oppenheimer family and their partners pledged to support the UPND leader in the January 2015 presidential by-election with the goal of reducing mining royalties for foreign companies.

Following Hichilema’s meetings in South Africa, high budget advertisements began running on Muvi TV, while UPND campaign began using several new helicopters flown by white South African pilots. UPND rallies were often lavish jamborees where traditional leaders were given expensive gifts. There was no doubt that Zambia’s main opposition party had significant resources and something to boast about; many foreign companies were reportedly donating millions to the UPND’s coffers for future favours in case of regime change.

But when Zambia’s historic “Sata’s Succession Battle” ended on 20 January 2015, the candidate seen as the late Michael Sata’s presidential heir apparent had trounced the Brenthurst Foundation’s preferred perennial losing candidate. His victory sent UPND sympathizers and Western diplomats in Lusaka scurrying for cover, for none had given him a dog’s chance to win, let alone in the first round. Was it why his opponent, Hichilema, had since then chosen the legal route to block him in 2021 polls via the ConCourt?

Looking at all the dynamics, it is interesting to note that all the presidential eligibility cases against the incumbent came about from the issue of retirement homes for ex-presidents. After the incumbent became the Head of State in 2015, the then-leader of the opposition in Parliament, Jack Mwiimbu, asked the Vice-President Inonge Wina during one of her parliamentary question and answer sessions whether President Lungu was entitled to a presidential retirement home since he would have only served one-year-six-months at the time of holding the 2016 polls, which fell short of a 3-year minimum term requirement, in the event of regime change after those polls, but as expected, the ruling party reemerged victorious.

There has been growing awareness that the stance taken by President Lungu since 2015 to forfeit the presidential privilege of having a house built for him after leaving office was a clear demonstration of his selfless leadership and apparent response to UPND’s parliamentary parody and taunting his deputy was subjected to, over his retirement home. Though it was his constitutional right, he insisted that he did not want Government to build a house for him after leaving State House but would rather borrow money to do so.

With this knowledge, and under intraparty pressure, UPND top honchos since the 2016 presidential election bungled-petitions in the ConCourt have had to change tactics. They began to claim that President Lungu had already served two terms, so he was not eligible to contest the 2021polls. No one anticipated that Jack Mwiimbu would be the person who would set the ball rolling in determining Zambia’s seventh president, and the eventual embarrassment of the UPND and its biased NGOs. And what is worse, the ConCourt’s rulings were not only humiliating to the UPND and its foreign-based paymasters, they had also done more harm than good for Hichilema’s political ambitions, who is reinventing himself on Facebook and other social media platforms in readiness for the upcoming presidential race.

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