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Did defectors’ setbacks and comebacks weaken PF strongholds?

By MUBANGA LUCHEMBE

UPND’S former vice-president Dr Canisius Banda certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest when he suggested that if there was a person who first of all insulted former President Edgar Lungu and caused the voting public to believe that PF was a criminal organisation, it was Mr Chishimba Kambwili. 

Furthermore, he revealed that Mr Kambwili and Mr Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (GBM) destroyed the PF by introducing UPND in its strongholds of Copperbelt, Luapula, Muchinga and Northern provinces.

It is common knowledge that for a time, UPND president Hakainde Hichilema had been looking for a running mate who would bring in more votes from these provinces. To this end, he made forays into these four vote-rich and populous provinces seeking a suitable deputy. 

In 2016 presidential polls, he settled for GBM as running mate, Dr Banda was miffed when he realised that he was no longer in Mr Hichilema’s succession plan, and eventually decided to go against his boss – albeit his defection to then-ruling PF obviously distressed the UPND in Eastern Province.

For whatever reasons, Dr Banda recently came out naming and shaming double-faced defectors’ past setbacks and comebacks that had weakened PF strongholds, and most likely it was to garner personal support for his co-option in the yet-to-be-rebranded PF’s top body, the central committee, his narrative was much publicised in the mainstream and social media platforms.

His most-high profile items of partisan scorn were erstwhile PF bigwigs-turned-defectors. This got many observers in the country thinking. Perhaps he was so preoccupied with grappling with the personal crisis of his beleaguered political career that he forgot to keep himself fully abreast of PF’s internal politics before he made those revelations.

For those observers enjoying the luxury of hindsight, the warning signs had been there since former President Michael Sata’s death in London on October 28, 2014. 

A split developed between two factions within the then-ruling party. This split came to the fore barely a day after Mr. Sata’s burial on November 11 and had the potential to be fatal for the party’s chances at then-upcoming presidential by-election. 

It had been known even before the burial that the party’s top body, the central committee would meet on November 13 to discuss the succession and possibly elect the successor who would be the PF presidential candidate in then-forthcoming January 2015 by-election. 

But in the evening on November 12, then-acting President Guy Scott announced that meeting’s cancellation on the grounds that the only item on the agenda – electing a successor – was beyond its purview.

There had already been a heated response to then-PF General Secretary, Mr Edgar Lungu’s statement, that the then-central committee was empowered to vary the rules and select the successor at its November 13 meeting. 

Other PF national leaders, notably then-national youth chairman, Mr Kambwili, vociferously disagreed and said that Mr. Lungu would not be allowed to short-circuit the process. 

Only the party’s general conference, made up of some 6, 000 delegates, would as stipulated by the constitution elect the successor. 

Dr. Scott said the same when he announced the meeting’s cancellation:  It was not up to the central committee to decide President Sata’s successor. 

Instead, the constitution would be followed and a general conference was being convened and disclosed that it would be convened on or about November 29 in Kabwe and a committee was already hard at work.

The response came from Mr. Lungu, whom Dr. Scott had dismissed from that position on November 3 before reinstating him. He said the meeting would go ahead on November 13 as scheduled. 

It had been properly convened and the acting president did not have the power to cancel it. Dr. Scott and others stayed away. A motion was proposed, seconded and adopted to put Mr. Lungu forward as the PF presidential candidate. 

During the meeting, a petition in support was received from about 60 PF lawmakers. The meeting then resolved that Dr. Scott should be briefed of the central committee’s “decision” and how it had the majority of PF parliamentarians’ backing.

Dr. Scott rejected that decision outright. Speaking on November 13, he said that he was disturbed that Mr. Lungu’s endorsement went against the party constitution, which called for a general conference of the party. 

He said it was sad that some members of the central committee wanted to select a candidate without going through a general conference. A larger democratic process would enable members to scrutinise the candidates and would help unite the party around the winning candidate. 

Dr Scott warned that any attempt to short-circuit the process or exclude the rank-and-file would risk storing up trouble for the future.

It was however, unlikely that the Lungu camp would take much notice of what Dr Scott had to say on this matter. They appeared very entrenched in their position that the central committee could elect the candidate and as far as they were concerned had already done so. 

There was something of the late president’s methodology in their actions. Then-Information Minister, Joseph Katema, for instance told ZNBC television on the evening of the burial that only urgent evacuation and Mr. Lungu’s absence from Zambia prevented the late president from anointing him as his official successor.

With such certitudes, it seemed only a matter of time before he began to campaign as the PF candidate, whilst the remainder of the party prepared and went to the General Conference. 

Their mood suggested that they planned to carry on as such until polling day. There was the real prospect of two different “PF-factions” fighting in then-forthcoming by-election. 

In late 2014, historically though, the PF began to bleed thanks to a self-inflicted wound which has been left untreated since then. That matters have not been rosy within PF rank-and-file has been the country’s worst-kept secret.

Perhaps going forward, it seems, whenever PF suffers two-faced defectors’ setbacks and comebacks, it needs to adjust – and set new goals and foolproof stringent criteria used for assessing erstwhile bigwigs-turned-defectors’ suitability to rejoin as PF’s top-ranking party functionaries.

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