THE MISTAKES THAT PF MADE IN THE JUST-ENDED ELECTIONS
FOR the observer en- joying the luxury of hindsight, the warning signs of the just-expe- rienced electoral tsunami had been there as one be- gins to analyze some of the mistakes that cost President Edgar Lungu’s just-ended presidential race. Just how did Zambia’s incumbent president and leading PF presidential contender, lose the coveted President of Zambia prize?
This is a question that for decades to come may be on the lips of political scien- tists and historians. Being the frontrunner for almost 6 years, it is a big surprise to many that he lost the election. Up to late 2020, he was the man to beat. All pollsters gave him an unas- sailable lead. Even with the entry into the race of more than a dozen candidates, he topped the polls and he had no equal. His credentials as a champion of democracy could not be disputed.
But the intrusion of the re-emerged Cambridge An- alytica that now operates as Auspex International (with the contractual obli- gation of helping the UPND win the 2021 elections us- ing massive social media campaigns and increased propaganda against the PF government for a period of 15 months) changed the incumbent’s presidential matrix. The UK-based data analytics firm and its back- ers, aided by a number of Zambian civil rights NGOs, somehow managed to sway public opinion to the side of President-elect Hakain- de Hichilema. But it is not just Auspex International that dented the incumbent’s chances but some of his own political party’s blunders be- came costly. Below is a small sample of the mistakes:
1) Know your history and audience: That PF’s big- wigs were poor students of history and appeared not to have a clue about the so- cial media messaging which their youthful audience wanted, was obvious during the parliamentary and ward by-election campaigns that preceded the just-ended presidential race in which various PF candidates emerged victorious. During these polls, they criticised Hichilema about how he would win the contest based on the practice of cyber- space “astroturfing”. The PF
top leadership’s “you can’t win a by-election through Facebook” played well into its opponent’s hands that had already branded itself as the “Digital Team” offering new “transformative leader- ship”. The PF fell pretty well into the trap the UPND had set for them as “analogue” politicians. By the time they realised that the youth vote was swaying towards Hichi- lema, it was too late.
2) The youth and “Bally- 1” connection: The UPND’s self-hyping narrative en- sured that social media was abuzz with the brand name “Bally-1” that had been be- stowed on their leader by the youth. Their campaign narrative “Bally-1 will fix it!” was well choreographed in the cyberspace. This charm offensive in the form of “so- cial media postings” was not only aimed at winning the election but also winning the allegiance of those born after the year 2000. This played a key role in connecting the UPND to mostly first-time voters. It worked and galvan- ised youth-based support groups. PF’s conventional counter-charm offensive floundered miserably.
3) Keep away from poll- sters: For weeks, PF’s cam- paign team relied heavily on pollsters, who contin- uously painted the ruling party as leading in the polls. This costly mistake made PF campaign team lethar- gic and made them live in a “make-believe-bubble” based on the assumption that victory was already as- sured. They should have listened to Zambia’s veteran diplomat and politician Ver-
non Mwaanga, who chided Zambian pollsters as lack- ing credibility and instead of using realistic sampling they resorted to “fiction and fantasy”.
4) A strong ally as a run- ning mate: It pays to have a socially strong, politically connected, and intellectu- ally endowed running mate. Prof Nkandu Luo, who was the incumbent’s running mate, personified all these qualities and projected an image of dependability. Of all the running mates in the race, no one equaled Prof Nkandu Luo’s prowess in foreign policy, her grasp of economic matters and un- derstanding academia is- sues. The same cannot be said of her banning of stu- dent unions and removal of meal allowances at CBU and UNZA. Her no-nonsense tough image as a higher ed- ucation reformer floundered miserably.
5) Get your foreign pol- icy right: Few days to the election, a number of for- eign envoys, notably those from EU, UK and US, came out strongly expressing in public their fears that Zam- bia, long considered a bea- con of democracy in Africa, was veering off track. They made a subtle warning against the Zambian lead- ers that if the just-ended polls did not meet the dem- ocratic test, they could be sanctioned. This put the PF leaders on a much-dreaded trajectory and handed them an opportunity to insinu- ate that the Western powers had somebody in mind. The President-elect’s silence on the issue did not help mat-
ters either. In the end, the President-elect was seen as a proxy for Western interests.
6) In your incumbency, be good and courteous to everyone: As PF became a governing party, it relied heavily on the core support of regional leaders who co- alesced around it in 2011. However, as soon as the founding president Michael Sata died in 2014, the PF top leadership began to antago- nise its key backers who had grassroots support. Unbowed even as the party disinte- grated into various factions, PF bigwigs ignored all the warning signs of self-inflicted public disaffection, thinking themselves as the country’s political grand masters. This would later become their undoing.
7) Set conditions for re- joining defectors’ mis- deeds: As soon as it was confirmed that some defec- tors were rejoining the rul- ing party, PF top leadership showed no concern to set conditions for the defectors to initially undo their misdeeds before rejoining. After defect- ingtotheUPND,thesedefec- tors had gone on denigrating PF’s leadership and exposed its underbelly. When the de- fectors returned to seek Pres- ident Lungu’s votes nation- wide by asking for forgiveness for their political “oversight”, the damage had already been done.
Worth noting though, man- aging power is more difficult than capturing power. Most Zambian leaders ride into office on a popular vote and depart on a stretcher of dis- appointment and condem- nation.
BY MUBANGA LUCHEMBE