ASPIRING Kaumbwe constituency PF member of parliament Moses Mutale says the ruling party should identify an alternative presidential candidate in case the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) rejects President Edgar Lungu’s nomination papers on account of eligibility. In a press statement, the aspiring lawmaker cautioned that it would be dangerous for the ruling party to start scrambling for a presidential candidate at the eleventh hour as it would be costly and difficult for the PF to sell such a candidate at short notice.

“I am seeing the PF party being caught unaware looking at things. We should have an alternative in mind to say, ‘if this fails, what are we going to do?’ People are watching and waiting how the ECZ will welcome the nomination papers for our candidate Edgar Lungu because they’ll say, ‘if he will be attempting to forward his papers, we’ll take him to court!’ Now, if the court will ban him from contesting, what are we going to do?” wondered Mutale.

What Mutale is saying is an issue that must not be downplayed or ignored. It is a very serious national issue. Yes, President Lungu’s eligibility is a national issue, and the need for his party to identify a successor is of national interest. Of course, the Patriotic Front doesn’t like to hear such suggestions of an alternative candidate, especially from its members. To them, this is a closed issue and there are no further debates allowed. They want Lungu wamuyaya!

We find this behaviour to be very strange, but we understand why. No sane person can go out into the bush to hunt a lion with bare hands, unless that individual is very familiar with that particular lion and even knows that it is toothless and without claws at all. This is correct for a zookeeper. A person who manages zoo animals has nothing to fear. The animals are usually harmless as they are kept in captivity for conservation or for public display. It is, therefore, expected for a zookeeper to prepare an escape route or survival plans when engaging the animals. In the same vain, zoo animals are usually not vicious to humans who are familiar to them. Those animals know not to harm their caretaker, not only because they know each other, but because they depend on their keeper for survival. They are no longer in the wilderness where they have to hunt and fend for themselves.

We are not calling anyone a zookeeper or a zoo animal. What we have illustrated above is just an analogy of what we are seeing in the courage that the Patriotic Front has exhibited on President’s Lungu’s eligibility and their reluctance to identify a backup plan for the 2021 presidential candidate. When State Counsel John Sangwa says: “I already have a draft petition to challenge Lungu the day he files his nomination papers”, those in the Patriotic Front are telling him that “you are wasting your time”. This is how confident they are about this candidate.

To us, this demonstrates that the Executive is relying on a particular invisible assurance that seems so guaranteed to them. The only way a political party can be so confident to bank on a candidate who has a contested eligibility status is when it has control of the Judiciary. The Patriotic Front seems to be suggesting that the Judiciary is under their control and nothing can stop President Lungu from appearing on the ballot in 2021. That is why they have threatened those who seek to democratically challenge Lungu’s candidature.

This is not a new phenomenon, it happened in the case of Danny Pule and others who were seeking the interpretation of the Constitutional Court on the presidential term limit. President Lungu threatened the judges that there would be war in Zambia if they delivered an interpretation of the law that outrightly disqualified him. And for sure, what we saw was a Constitutional Court ruling that left the country more confused than it was before they rendered their judgement. Since then, the PF has gone far and wide to preach that the Constitutional Court declared Mr Lungu eligible to stand in 2021. Legal experts are telling us that Mr Lungu’s eligibility was not decided upon because the man was neither the petitioner nor the respondent in the matter, but they don’t care about that.

We would like to advise the Patriotic Front not to be too confident on this issue for two reasons. First, 12 months is a long time and the political dynamics are such that anything can happen between now and August, 2021. If they don’t secure a backup plan, as Mutale from Kaumbwe is advising them, they will be taking their luck too far. Secondly, even zoo animals bite when they are pushed too far. It will be folly for the Patriotic Front to think threats on the judges will work all the time. If President Lungu ignores the advice from some voiceless grassroot party members like Mutale, he risks being the last President from the PF to rule this country.

Mutale has picked up some critical leadership wisdom from his association with the Easterners in the Province, and if he maintains his reasoning at this level, Kaumbwe constituency may have a good alternative parliamentarian in this Bemba man. Unfortunately, the man from the East, whom Mutale is advising, seems to have picked some bad manners through his association with the Northerners and advisors from Luapula.