Dr. Zamchiya unpacks the electoral equation of Zambia

Dr. Phillan Zamchiya


Zambia’s President Faces Electoral Defeat. What’s next? Dr. Phillan ZamchiyaDear Reader, President Edgar Lungu of Zambia performed dismally in the general election held on 12 August 2021. Results from polling agents indicate that the United Party for National Development’s Alliance leader Hakainde Hichilema (HH) is going to win with more than 50% of the vote. HH had support of 10 political parties. Reader, the political victory is already entrenched in the public’s mind. However, Zambia has to wait for the official declaration by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), the statutory body mandated to run elections.

Meanwhile the nation is on the edge. What are the possible four scenarios?

Scenario 1: Democratic transition

The best case scenario for democracy is for the ECZ to speedily announce the official results. So that HH, who evidently has more than 50% of the vote, becomes the President elect in line with section 101 (2) of the national constitution. This will pave way for HH to be sworn into office on the Tuesday following the seventh day after the date of ECZ’s declaration. Meanwhile, Lungu will have to do the honourable and gracious act. That is to phone H.H., congratulate him and concede defeat. Naturally, losing elections is devastating. However, democracy requires that once candidates have been submitted to the people the vote becomes supreme. H.H. has already sent messages indicating that ‘he will take care of Lungu’ in order to signal a peaceful transfer of power. Some losing Presidential candidates like Dr Nevers Mumba have already accepted the will of the people and called on Lungu to follow suit. That will result in a peaceful democratic transition and make Africa proud especially after Donald Trump’s failed theatrics to remain in office after losing the vote in America.

Scenario 2: Prolonged transition

However, Lungu can choose to continue occupying the saddle of state power for a while and prolong the transition. He can lodge an election petition to nullify the election of the President elect [read HH) if he can prove that the election laws were not complied with. He will have to file the petition with the constitutional court within seven days after the ECZ’s declaration of the President elect. Faced with such a petition, the constitutional court will have to hear the case within 14 days of the filing. The constitutional court can: (a) uphold the election of the President-elect of which he will be sworn in on the Tuesday following the seventh day after the declaration or (b) nullify the election of the President-elect which means a new presidential election will have to be held within 30 days. A decision of the constitutional court will be final. Within this period, the law will allow Lungu to continue to perform the executive functions except dissolving parliament or making appointments. Most commentators doubt the independence of the constitutional court because it was appointed by Lungu and it has been making controversial rulings in his favour. The judges were also trained by Zimbabwe’s controversial Chief Justice, Luke Malaba, on how to handle electoral petitions in May 2021. Nevertheless, even if the election is nullified, it will be a herculean task for Lungu to make a political comeback in 30 days. The people of Zambia want HH this time. Political allegiances change.

Scenario 3: Derailed transition

On the other end, Lungu can try to manipulate state institutions and ECZ to rig the results in ways that can lead to his victory but more realistically a run-off. It is important to note that if none of the presidential candidates receives more than 50 percent of the votes, a second round of the presidential vote shall be held within 37 days of the first round. In the run-off, only candidates with the highest and second highest number of votes will be eligible to participate. Technically this means Lungu and HH will have to face each other in a second round. Political winds of change sweeping through Zambia cannot allow Lungu to turn the tide in just 37 days. Losing presidential candidates endorsing HH are likely to back him in the run-off. If anything, Lungu is likely to be isolated and defeated by even a wider margin in such a scenario. Maybe he will try to go for broke.

Scenario 4: Blocked transition

This will mean a suicidal attempt to refuse to surrender power and dig in at all costs. Under this scenario, the judiciary can be manipulated to disqualify HH as a Presidential candidate in the run-off based on trumped up charges of violating the constitution or election laws. The technical elimination of HH will result in a blocked transition. Lungu can also try to manipulate the judiciary to order an injunction against the ECZ despite that it is a state institution doing its constitutional duties. This will be meant to stop the ECZ from announcing results especially from HH’s stronghold constituencies citing violence and irregularities. Lungu’s last wild card in trying to block the transition can be to order the military to unleash terror against the citizens and make the country ungovernable. This is far-fetched and undesirable. Citizens are likely to build on Zambia’s democratic political culture of peaceful transfer of state power to resist. In addition, the international community is watching and there is no shared appetite to breed a pariah state within the judiciary, army and other state institutions.So the best way for President Edgar Lungu is to enable democratic and peaceful transfer of state power and salvage some legacy.

-Dr. Phillan Zamchiya is an academic and a human rights activist


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