THE CHALLENGES OF A POLITICAL PARTY THAT HAS LOST POLITICAL POWER
By PROFESSOR GEOFFREY LUNGWANGWA
A ruling Political Party in Africa that looses power following the general elections almost always faces a number of challenges.There are glaring examples in our country of this experience. UNIP was the first ruling Party to face the challenges of falling out of power in 1991.Those who followed the events after the 1991 elections can recall that the first remark by the late President Kaunda when he arrived at the airport from Chinsali was ” where were our women?’ Women are indeed the majority of the voters. The UNIP Womens’ league was a strong arm of the Party. President Kaunda expected his Party to win given the strength of the Womens’ league. He was deeply disappointed when it did not happen.
Twenty years later, the MMD which enjoyed the pomp, splendour and unimaginable jubilation of taking over power in 1991 fell off the stage of power in 2011 to PF. Those who paid close attention to what unfolded do remember how prominent leaders of the Party crossed over to the ruling PF Party. Even those calling themselves Cadres found a new home in the ruling Party.
Both UNIP and MMD have over the years been reduced to political insignificance. The only voices that are heard from these once powerful Political Parties are those of the top leadership. The numbers of these Political Parties in Parliament have dwindled to zero in the just ended general elections. Unless extra ordinary measures of reorganisation take place (which is very unlikely) one could justifiably conclude that UNIP and MMD are Political Parties that were and probably will never be in power again.
The just ended August 2021 general elections have seen PF leaving the political stage of being in power. It is too early to make any conclusions about the state of the Party. However, the resignations of some senior leaders before the dust of election campaigns settle down could be an indication of things to come in the near future.
The downfall of former ruling Political Parties to near oblivion is however a worrying phenomenon to the fragile young democracy of our country.
The question that begs answers is why don’t former ruling political parties continue on the trajectory of vibrant institutions that can offer strong checks and balances to the new ruling Political Parties? How can the democratic culture be entrenched when the experience of former ruling political parties is lost especially in Parliament the centre of policy contestation. What makes ruling Political Parties centres of attraction and why do they loose such magnetism shortly after loosing power?
There are many answers to the questions posed above. Of major concern for now is how the loss of power for a ruling Political Party is managed. What happens when a Political Party looses power from being a centre of attraction to being a defenceless punching bag.Experience show that the loss of political power by a ruling Political Party poses the challenge of managing the four Ds and these are;
The first D centres on deep Disappointment. The loss of political power is honestly speaking a deep disappointment. General elections in a democracy are a contestation for access to political power. This power resides in the people whose vote decides who should have access to it which ultimately crowns the victor with the opportunity of governance of the state. Loosing the contest almost always brings disappointment especially after so much energy, effort and resources have been expended. Questions usually arise as to what went wrong? Who is to blame for the loss? What next over the coming five years? These questions of disappointment are generally clouded in emotions. The mockery combined with severe brutal criticisms from the winning Party and its supporters raises the emotions to higher levels. Finger pointing does arise and if not managed amicably and objectively can lead to the parting of company of once strong comrades. This is the challenge of the young and fragile democracy. One of the dictates of the democratic culture is that there shall be winners and loosers in the quest to gain people’s legitimacy to exercise political power which rightfully resides in them and they have the mandate to decide who to give it to. The spirit of the political culture in a democracy should always be that the winner in the bitter struggle for political power is democracy.
The second D is desperation. This is the state of hopelessness. It arises out of a feeling or realization of opportunities lost and the gap of never to gain them again. Reflections on the state of former ruling Political Parties does contribute more to the rise in desperation. Desperation among the members of the former ruling Political Party is ignited more by the mistakes or misdeeds in governance which are now glaringly laid bare for all to see and judge. The culture of carderismwhich is now a topical issue in the country is a good example. Videos of once powerful carders who controlled bus stations and markets being clobbered by the new forces are still in our mobile phones. There is no doubt that the carders of the former ruling Party were thrown in the quagmire of deep desperation shortly after the August 2021 elections. With no powerful political figures to support them, these carders were now on their own to account for what they did during the reign of their Political Party.
The third D is disillusionment. To be disillusioned is to have a deep feeling of disenchantment. That is a view that something that was held as good or admirable is therefore no longer so. To an ordinary member of a loosing Political Party that was in power the loss of opportunities that came with being in power brings about disillusionment. Disillusionment is almost always fuelled by massive criticism of the former ruling Political Party by the supporters and sympathizers of the new ruling Party. The loosing Political Party lacks the machinery to defend itself.
The fourth D is disintegration. This is the loss of membership. In most cases those that leave the former ruling Political Party end up joining the new ruling Party which has become the centre of attraction and the dispenser of opportunities. The loss of members of the Party is a very uncontrollable development. In our situation people join Political Parties for various intrinsic and extrinsic reasons. To most ordinary persons membership of Political Parties is rarely done on strong ideological convictions. In old and more mature democracies Political Party membership is in most cases based on well founded intrinsic ideological convictions.
Management of the four Ds is almost always the challenge of the leadership of a Political Party that has lost power. There are no shot solutions to this challenge. The answer lies more in the strategies that are adopted to make the loosing Political Party credible and a viable and strong competitor on the Political Platform. This is a battle of policy contestation that is good and relevant to the wider population. In an age of Youth Power it requires careful attraction of politically strong Youth who have intellectual ability to articulate policy imperatives that appeal to the young population.