Political commentator Sishuwa Sishuwa has observed that President Edgar Lungu is pretending that he does not want to go beyond 2021 so that Zambians do not blame him if he is ‘forced’ to recontest the presidency by PF supporters.

Sishuwa was speaking in an interview with News Diggers.

“First, Lungu has always been careful not to appear openly ambitious. The same is true with this latest statement. By claiming that he is going up to 2021 unless otherwise, he is effectively encouraging PF supporters to publicly demand that he continues as President and then claim that he is merely responding to such popular demands and not serving his own ambition. Already, the PF Secretary General Davies Mwila has re-emphasised that Lungu will be the candidate for the PF in 2021, effectively presenting him as ‘the people and the party’s choice’. This political strategy reflects the way in which he was selected as a presidential candidate in 2014, with others allegedly pushing him to the fore. Similarly, the court case to test his constitutional eligibility to stand for a third term was brought by ‘other people’ in the form of supposed opposition parties, who want him to continue, not by him, though clearly these parties are closely aligned with his interests,” Sishuwa observed.

“Second, Lungu is attempting to change the national political conversation from talking about his threats to judges to discussing the ambiguity of his latest remark and in so doing, diffuse the adverse impact of his earlier statement. Lungu clearly underestimated the strength of public reaction to his speech in Solwezi effectively threatening the constitutional court judges. His later statement is an attempt to paint himself as a respecter and defender of the constitutional order. Third, Lungu is preparing the public to accept a possible ConCourt ruling that favours his desires. The reference to 2021 is an attempt to present his seeming willingness to accept a ruling from the Constitutional Court that he is in ineligible. Then, if the court rules in his favour, he can point to the statement as evidence that he was perfectly willing to accept any outcome, so his opponents should do the same.”

He said President Lungu was trying to give a impression to the nation that he was ready to exit State House in 2021, unless the courts ordered.

“In other words, his ‘otherwise’ remark was deliberate. If the ConCourt rules in his favour, he could use that remark to later say “l was ready to go at the expiry of my current term in 2021; it’s the court that has ruled otherwise and since the people want me to continue, who am l to say no?” or claiming he was entirely ignorant of the outcome before it was announced! Lungu used the same strategy before the 2016 polls, encouraging the opposition to accept defeat before a single ballot was cast because he was prepared to do so himself. Fourth, Lungu is acknowledging his mortality and effectively saying that although his term ends in 2021, he can only complete it if his health allows him. Given his own previous health problems, though greatly exaggerated by his political opponents, and the fact that Zambia has an unhappy history with presidents dying in office, Lungu’s fears might not be entirely unfounded. By saying ‘I am only going up to 2021 unless otherwise’, he is conceding that he may not be able to complete his current term as president on health grounds, especially since he is surely aware that the job takes its toll on incumbents,” said Sishuwa.

“These are all possibilities. If President Lungu has really decided that he will not stand in 2021 come what may, it would be a stunning reversal, and go against everything he has previously pursued. The truth will soon come out because his all consuming desire to go beyond 2021 can only be momentarily masked. The PF Secretary General’s insistence that the President will be on the ballot in 2021 no matter what happens is most worrying because it comes before the ConCourt pronounces itself on the eligibility case. What’s the source of Mwila’s confidence that Lungu will be the PF candidate in 2021? Does he already know the outcome of the case? Or could it be that Lungu has the support of key elements in the military who are operating behind the scenes? Someone right inside power told me recently that some in the security ‘stopped the President’ from handing over power to the Speaker during the petition last year. I do not know for sure if that’s what happened, but such remarks by Mwila make me wonder if our President is also beholden to military interests.”