ONE of the most dreaded problems that Mr Hakainde Hichilema faces in every election is back knocking at his door. The choice of vice-president, or rather, running mate. The UPND has struggled to maintain order on this party position. In the past 10 years, the UPND has had five different vice presidents.

After Michael Sata appointed Mr Francis Simenda as Ambassador to Ethiopia, the party elevated Mr Richard Kapita who also defected after being given a job by President Edgar Lungu. Then came Dr Canisius Banda and Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba who went through the same way others did, leaving the party to settle for its first female vice-president in Mutale Nalumango.

One of the reasons why the UPND has suffered betrayal on this position is because it seems to be a socket that has been reserved for an alliance partner to plug in. Until Madam Nalumango’s appointment, the vice-president position in the UPND was kept for an outsider who had something ‘good’ to offer. That is why after Pilgrim left, the party did not make a replacement, as if there was nobody qualified to hold the position. After GBM went back to PF, again the UPND did not make a replacement for a long time.

But that is not how a political party should operate. The UPND is the largest opposition political party in Zambia, both in terms of popularity and parliamentary representation. This means the party must have its own solid structures from top to bottom. There must not be a position reserved for opportunists who join for the sake of convenience. This is the reason why we commended the UPND leadership when they appointed madam Nalumango because that is a person who has shown loyalty to the party when others were jumping ship.

Last week, the UPND formed the so-called alliance with Mr Felix Mutati’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Mr Kelvin Bwalya Fube’s “the Zambia We Want” or whatever his movement is called. There were some other little known political party leaders who also joined the alliance. What we are hearing on the ground is that there are now talks about a running mate being picked from one of the leaders who endorsed the candidature of Mr Hakainde Hichilema as president.

We are not members of the UPND and the decision lies solely on the leadership of the party. But we are here to inform them that if they decide to appoint a running mate from among those who have offered the so-called alliance, they should know that they are going to bed with strangers who can also be referred to as opportunists. We say this because marriages of convenience in politics are destructive. People who don’t share the same vision or ideology cannot work together. If you force matters, the consequences are what we have been seeing on the UPND vice-president position.

The UPND must not feel pressured to appoint a running mate from that “Zambia we want” group unless they are certain that they are picking someone with whom they share common values. Mr Hichilema must not be bullied or blackmailed into making a decision that may end up causing discomfort to loyal members of the party. This is the same advice we would give to President Edgar Lungu if we heard that he was considering someone like Edith Nawakwi for the running mate position.

We have nothing against Mr Mutati and Mr Fube. We believe they have a following of some sort and there must be some value that they bring to the table considering that they have been involved in elections before. But our point is that if they were capable of winning elections on their own, they would not have endorsed the UPND leader as president. Simply put, they need the UPND more than the UPND needs them.

Politics is about numbers, one would argue. But that’s just one side of the argument. The same numbers can also be destructive if there are no principles involved. In 2010 when the PF and UPND formed an alliance, it was a marriage of convenience which did not succeed. After the alliance was dissolved, people argued that PF would lose because the party did not have the support of the UPND, but the results of the 2011 elections are out there for everybody to see. Michael Sata picked his vice-president from within his party structures, traversed the country campaigning until they won.

Our point is that the UPND must not depart from its election strategy to accommodate the kinds of Kambwili, GBM, Mutati, Fube etc. A serious party must stick to the agenda. If there is a need to consider someone from outside, due diligence must be done. The candidate must demonstrate that he shares common values and understands the vision. The only problem with this approach is that there is no time left.

Mr Hichilema must not be fooled into thinking that the so-called alliance partners see him as the best leader for this country. Both Mr Mutati and Mr Fube see themselves as better leaders and they feel they deserve to be in State House. What they need is a ladder to climb on, and this is what brings them to the UPND. If the party wins elections in August and these alliance partners are appointed to government positions, they will start campaigning for their own political parties from day one!

This is exactly what Mr Mutati did in the PF government. He was not loyal to the PF, it was a marriage of convenience. He wanted to be president himself. Imagine if Mr Mutati was the running mate to President Lungu. There would be confusion and a headed battle between the Head of State and his deputy. The running mate would have caused so many problems on the President to the point of making the country ungovernable. This is what happens when you pick an ambitious outsider for a sensitive position such as that of running mate.

This is why we hold the view that the UPND president made a good choice on Mutale Nalumango. It is our considered opinion that he must now be decisive and consider her as his running mate ahead of the 2021 general elections. Like we have stated in the past, it’s better to lose surrounded by loyal people, than to win with wolves in sheep’s skin. If Mr Hichilema needs a Bemba for running mate, that’s Nalumango, if he needs a loyal person, that’s Nalumango, if he needs a woman, that’s Nalumango. What more do you need?