IF someone called from abroad to ask what are the key campaign issues being discussed among political candidates ahead of the August election, it would be hard to explain. The reason is simple, there are no campaigns in the first place and there are no messages. In a normal country and at this stage of the election calendar, we would be saying “corruption is the key issue, and among the candidates, party X has come up with a more viable plan than the rest”. Or we would be saying “national debt is the main campaign issue and candidate Y is ahead in terms of explaining the solution”. But there is nothing like that.
Look at the PF virtual rally for example, if that should be called a campaign, what would we say was the theme of the rally? What was the takeaway message? Was it a campaign rally to tell Zambians that they are pretending to be suffering when they are not? Was it a rally for making Zambians laugh away their misery with insulting proverbs? What was the campaign really about? Where the PF is concerned, they think they nailed it, but what do the people of Zambia think? Did they get the message?
This is one election where we must admit that campaigns will have almost zero bearing on the outcome. This is not because the campaign period has been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the state funerals, but because the politicians have been throwing rubbish at the people instead of presenting a message. What we have is just confusion. There is one group that is talking and saying a lot of nonsense, and we have the other group that also doesn’t have a message, but is patiently waiting for the talkative ones to make enough blunders and lose the election.
In fact, that is exactly where the problem lies for the opposition parties, especially the UPND because they hardly take advantage of the campaign opportunities. Those who say Zambia still does not have a vibrant opposition, they have a point to some extent. If there was a fierce opposition in this country, this election would have already been done and dusted by now, the PF would be out and packing. But crazy as this sounds, the PF can still win this election. If anyone thinks there is no contest left, they are flirting with a potential heart attack. With all due respect to the efforts they have put in their own version of the campaign, it is still possible for the UPND to lose again.
Why are we saying this? Well, when we look back at how the UPND behaves during campaigns, they seem to act as though the Zambian people owe them a debt in the form of a vote. The UPND behave with so much laxity as if they have all the voters in their camp. They look at the mistakes being committed by the party in power and they assume that the people of Zambia will be aggrieved enough to vote PF out. But every time they become so confident, that this time they will get it, the unexpected happens.
The UPND’s biggest weakness is that it is a party that is driven by the presidential candidate and almost nothing else. If their leader takes a rest and stops moving around or talking, the whole party seems paralyzed. The PF on the other hand are super effective in terms of creating attack groups and propaganda think tanks. In this election, the PF has put everything at their disposal. They may not have a message; they may be insulting or mocking the poor people, but they are not leaving any stones unturned. The sad part is that the people of Zambia forget easily and they have very strange loyalty.
When you think about Zambia in the context of a family, the Patriotic Front is like an abusive parent who is not ashamed to do all the disgraceful things in the neighbourhood, embarrassing the children, insulting and beating them in public for no reason. Or, the PF is like a cruel administrator of a deceased’s estate who is spending the inheritance on alcohol and other illicit activities. But on the other hand, the people of Zambia are like those abused children who have been beaten enough and insulted enough such that they don’t feel pain anymore. If they hear that their drunkard father has fallen into a ditch, they will still find a wheelbarrow to go and fetch him home.