The Patriotic Front (PF) should not think that winning by-elections has guaranteed them victory in the 2021 general elections because by-elections are not a good measure of a party’s popularity, says University of Zambia political science lecturer Lee Habasonda.

And Habasonda has observed that opposition political parties were not given a fair platform to campaign in the just-ended Lusaka Mayoral by-elections, while the ruling PF went a little too far in campaigning for its candidate Miles Sampa; littering the whole city with posters.

Meanwhile, Habasonda says opposition councillors have continued defecting to the ruling party because it is hard to survive in the opposition.

Speaking when he featured on a Diamond Television programme dubbed Costa on Sunday evening, Habasonda said the PF needed to remember that by-elections werre not a very accurate barometer of electoral popularity.

“The voter turnout in the Mayoral by-elections was disastrous, but I wouldn’t really call it voter apathy. I will just call [it] voter indifference because it was not really because people were not aware that there was an election and that it is important, but it is because they understood the circumstances around them that, really, even if they went to vote, not much would change. And about PF celebrating their victory, yes, when you read political science books, it is the number of votes that you win that measure your popularity and to that extent, I think that the PF can celebrate the fact that they got more votes and won the mayorship using votes. But remember that, by-elections are not very accurate barometers of electoral popularity. So they shouldn’t take for granted that the fact that they’ve won means that they are popular because a by-election has many factors,” Habasonda noted.

“Number one, the ruling party is sitting on huge resources, which they concentrate on a small area and, therefore, they can easily outsmart the opposition. Secondly, many people don’t consider a by-election as critical. For example, if you look at the two major parties, the UPND and the PF or shall I say the PF and the opposition. The opposition in 2016 were campaigning on the platform of total transformation whereas the PF was campaigning on an agenda of reform. Therefore, the opposition do not really have members in the city already and even if they had one candidate winning as Mayor, they probably would not achieve their transformation agenda. So, from that aspect, therefore, people who support the opposition would probably be discouraged to go and vote a guy whose impact would not be felt as Mayor because the people that are in the council would not cooperate with him.”

And Habasonda observed that the opposition did not campaign enough due to unfavourable conditions.

“I think that the opposition did not do enough to campaign. In fact, if you looked at the campaign around it was more like PF was competing alone. I didn’t see many of UPND posters or NDC posters or PAC posters and so I think they were sort of overwhelmed by the PF campaigns. Although again I must say, PF almost overdid it for Mayoral elections to have littered the whole town with such campaign posters,” he added.

Meanwhile, Habasonda observed that opposition councillors had continued to defect to PF because it was hard to deliver to people’s expectations as an opposition leader.

“I don’t know where we sort of lost this because we actually addressed by-elections related to Presidency and that’s why the article of a running-mate was put in there so that if we have an incident where the President is no longer in office, the Vice-President will take over automatically. We have plagued this also at parliamentary level, now we don’t hear parliamentarians defecting because that was supposed to be addressed that time, I don’t think we did address it at the council level that’s why you’ve seen rampant defections at council level. But remember also that, being in the opposition in a country like Zambia, it’s not an easy thing. So, if you are sitting in the council like Lusaka, and then you are the only opposition councillor, it becomes very difficult to work. So, that’s why many people choose the easier way. As you could see the only opposition [councillor] who was there chose the easier way and joined his friends [in the PF] so that he works with them. So, it is also about people feeling that it is difficult to work in the opposition because of the conditions, which surround being in the opposition in Zambia,” he observed.

Habasonda also asked President Edgar Lungu to act on the ongoing divisions in the country due to political differences.

“President Lungu needs to do more, particularly that the country seems to really be divided into two places; a country for the opposition, and a country for the ruling party. That is something that must not be ignored, it’s a serious thing that he needs to pay attention to and get it over and get Zambians to think as one people. I feel very sad, at the lowest, when you are interacting in the Church and in the bars, you still see this clear division between our people. I have gone to so many places and the fact that my name starts with ‘H’, I am already labelled where I belong. But I think we need to get back to this brotherhood where you don’t judge each other based on regional ties. I think our politics needs control and for me that is why dialogue is very important because if we miss this, we will miss an opportunity to keep Zambia a unitary state,” cautioned Habasonda.