Dubbed a Saturday by those so passionate about this year’s campaigns, 21st May is a day when the ‘Big Boys’ get to the people, tell them what they have done and what they offer them for the next five years.
This is a when the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) were both expected to launch their 2016 campaigns and their manifestos.
This follows the start of the officially sanctioned election period which commenced on 16 May. PF will hold its launch at the 60,000 Heroes National Stadium in the capital Lusaka while the UPND will hold its launch at Freedom Park in Kitwe on the Copperbelt.
PF and UPND are the big boys of the 2016 general elections while the rest of the more than two dozen political parties are treated like what American political pundits call ‘Third parties.’
President Edgar Lungu, who won a bitterly fought poll in January last year following the death of President Michael Sata in October 2014, is hoping to get a full five year mandate of his own on top of the one year seven months he would have served by the time the polls will be held on 11 August 2016.
Using his position as the incumbent President, his access to public media, ruling party loyalists and the support of a number of immediate past opposition Members of Parliament, President Lungu straight away becomes a frontrunner and hopes to get a clean sweep of the votes.
Bolstered by the completion of the construction of several roads, schools, hospitals and several other infrastructure, the ruling party handlers have even coined the campaign slogan ‘Sonta Epowabomba‘ meaning ‘Point At What You Done’ to project the President as a working head of state.
Key to President Lungu’s campaign will be the person he will choose as his running mate. Repeatedly, he has announced that his running mate will be a woman. At the campaign launch, President Lungu is also expected to unveil the names of all candidates who have been adopted to contest the 156 parliamentary seats as well as the local government seats.
On the other hand, President Lungu’s arch-rival Hakainde Hichilema of the UPND will be giving it a try for a straight fifth time. This follows his unsuccessful presidential bids in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2015.
Bolstered by the defection of several immediate past ruling and other opposition Members of Parliament including former President Sata’s son Mulenga, Hichilema is positioning himself as the alternative to the PF.
With the recent economic challenges the country has faced such as the electricity crisis, high inflation and increase in prices of mealie meal, Mr Hichilema has been presenting himself as ‘Mr Fixer’ who will use his vast knowledge in economics to bring hope to Zambians.
According to some observers, his choice of a running mate is being narrowed down to two of his deputies in his party. Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba, who is popularly known as GBM, is a wealthy politician who is a former Defence Minister and immediate past ruling party Member of Parliament in Kasama Central Constituency in the Northern Province of Zambia.
Another UPND Vice President is Dr. Canicius Banda, a medical personnel-cum politician whose rhetoric at public rallies usually makes headlines. The UPND is also likely to unveil its candidates for parliament and local government at the launch.
Both parties will be hoping to win the elections in the first round due to the fact that in the second round, a re-run is usually a difficult task due to the high stakes. The amendments to the constitution enacted in January 2016 provide for presidential candidates to be elected through a majoritarian system by amassing 50% plus one or more votes.
The new laws also provide for a Vice President who is elected during the general elections as a Running Mate, a provision Zambians have been crying for since 1991. For the former ruling party the MMD, the party is still rocked by indiscipline and infighting.
A faction allied to the party president Dr. Nevers Mumba seems prepared to contest the elections under him while another faction led by immediate past Lunte MP Felix Mutati is pushing for a party convention this weekend to choose a presidential candidate.
Just like last year, the MMD is yet again finding itself fighting during an election period and its presidential candidates may risk being ‘beaten’ by the number of rejected ballots just like Dr. Mumba did in 2015.
Other politicians who are likely to contest this year’s presidential elections are FDD’s Edith Nawakwi, Wynter Kabimba of the Rainbow Party and the Green Party’s Peter Sinkamba.