Will new opposition alliance defy the odds?
Published On February 4, 2014 » 3332 Views» By Davies M.M Chanda » Features
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From top left: Chipimo Jr, Mulongoti, Bwalya Bottom left: Mumba, Masheke

From top left: Chipimo Jr, Mulongoti, Bwalya
Bottom left: Mumba, Masheke

By Sylvester Mwale –

The recent announcement that four opposition political parties have formed an alliance makes interesting reading as it refreshes people’s minds on how the past mergers have faired.

Although there is no clear roadmap so far on how the alliance will work, many people will take the arrangement as working together of opposition parties with the hope of fielding one candidate in 2016.

It must be stated that perhaps more interesting is that the new alliance includes the MMD which received unbearable sticks from its new found friends as the ruling party neared its exit in 2011.

With the failure of United Democratic Alliance (UDA), a 2006 alliance consisting of UNIP, UPND and FDD, Zambians will be forgiven for perceiving the alliance as a marriage of convenience.

Similarly, although the Patriotic Front (PF) managed to hold onto its pact with the United Liberal Party (ULP) ahead of the 2006 polls, the alliance crumbled soon after the elections.

As though that was not bad enough, the highly welcomed PF-UPND pact collapsed before it could even stand as deep divisions and innuendos characterised its operations ahead of the 2011 elections.

It is apparently against this backdrop that questions are being asked: What is so special about the new alliance? How will it work to avoid another embarrassing fall?

Who are in the Alliance?

Apart from the Nevers Mumba-led MMD, the latest alliance also has Alliance for Better Zambia (ABZ) under Fr Frank Bwalya and People’s Party (PP) headed by Mike Mulongoti.

The Alliance for Opposition Parties in Zambia (AOPZ) is chaired by veteran politician Malimba Masheke.

However, Gen Masheke has not taken up the position fully as he is reportedly still consulting.

As earlier alluded to, an average Zambian would be forgiven for being pessimistic on the practicability of the new alliance thanks to the past precedence.

The ULP entered into an alliance with the PF in 2006, but the merger proved to be just for expediency after the two parties went their ways soon after losing the presidential elections.

Similarly, with seemingly a sole purpose of unseating the MMD in 2006, UDA was formed but its performance in the elections was as poor as its organisation ahead of the polls.

Political parties in the new alliance are amazingly aware about this poor history about alliances in Zambia but they have insisted that this is a different merger which is set to defy the odds.

“We know that some people may think that those of us who have started this alliance are taking a risk,” said AOPZ spokesperson Fr Frank Bwalya. “Some people even think that we are engaging in futility because according to them alliances in Zambia have failed to work.”

Resistance in the ranks of the alliance have already emerged with ABZ already losing its influential secretary general Eric Chanda who insists that he “cannot dine with the MMD” whom he accused of being corrupt.

“As I am talking the alliances have only brought the leaders together and I doubt if the membership has been consulted,” Mr Chanda said. “If individual political parties have failed I wonder what they hope to achieve as an alliance.”

Will the Alliance hold and work?

Perhaps it is important to state from the onset that while political parties have a common objective of improving the lives of the people once elected, their ideologies have been a distant apart.

In this vein, while opposition parties have managed to come together in the past, there have been gaps in the manner they would love to govern once they are elected.

In most cases, removing the party in power has been the motive and preoccupation of the agenda for parties involved while ideals on governing have been perceived as secondary and unimportant.

Political analyst Thomas Mabwe said alliances in Zambia have failed to work because of political parties’ sole objective of only unseating the ruling party.

“In the past, mergers have had silent conflicts on who should be the president and the main problem is that they are aimed at unseating the party in power,” Mr Mabwe said.

“As long as there is a sole objective of unseating the ruling party, alliances will not work,” he added. “There is need for all political parties entering into an alliance to share common objectives on how they want to govern.”

Mr Mabwe, a political lecturer at the Zambian Open University, said the best option for political parties now was to intensify the mobilisation of members as individual parties instead of waiting for the election year.

Apparently, the desire to ascend to ‘plot one’ by riding on other political parties has also been seen by many as a real motive by some opposition leaders to go into the alliance with other.

This does not only apply at presidential level, but also other government positions where leaders hope to share ministerial posts if the alliance is given the mandate to rule.

Undoubtedly, unless there is a firm agreement in the principles, standards and values as well as wider common objectives on economic, social and political objectives among political parties, the alliance will fail.

This takes us to the question: Do the parties in AOPZ share these common objectives? Although this is subject to debate, many would agree that apart from removing the ruling PF, there is very little else that the four parties aspire to achieve.

What is more interesting is to note that the MMD has gone into this new alliance with political parties that did not agree with it on anything it touched during its rule just over two years ago.

For instance, it was Fr Bwalya who performed a bizarre ritual of savagely beheading a chicken at a public rally in Kitwe in disapproval of the MMD governance system in 2011. In the same vein, Mr Mulongoti became a perpetual critic of the MMD after leaving the then ruling party, so was Fred Mutesa.

NAREP president Elias Chipimo Jr, is on record saying that corruption will worsen in the country if the MMD government is voted back into power as the party had failed to curb the scourge.

From this background, it will be comical to believe that the new found friends of the MMD will now look at the biggest opposition party as a saint who should be entrusted with the affairs of the nation.

Who are the winners and loser?

There is no denying that all parties involved in the new alliance will be losers if the alliance fails to work. This is because they would have lost time to mobilise individual parties ahead of the 2016 presidential elections.

Additionally, even the confidence of the people in any of the four political parties would swiftly evaporate as electorates and Zambians at large would consider them as jokers.

However, even in an unlikely situation that the alliance reached 2016 and decides to field one candidate, there is a likelihood of divisions on which leader should be fielded by the alliance.

Will it be Dr Mumba whose party has in the past been labelled corrupt and unjust by Fr Bwalya whom he has embraced today, or Dr Mutesa who has no single parliamentarian in the national assembly?

Langton Sichone believes that there was nothing wrong for the opposition parties that differed during the MMD reign to come together.

“Politics favour fools and that is why you see people moving from one party to another and condemning the party they have ditched,” said Mr Sichone who is the president of the Zambia Democratic Congress (ZADECO).

Mr Sichone noted that apart from unseating the ruling party, the alliance has been necessitated by failure by the ruling party to do the things that they promised the people.

“If all the opposition parties agree that the ruling party is running away from the promises that it promised, then there is nothing wrong to team up even when they did not agree in the past,” he added.

While the MMD may hope to ride on the other three parties because of its numbers, the alliance may just end up benefiting the ruling party that will be able to take advantage of disagreements on who should contest.

Conclusion

Admittedly, while there has been the desire by many people to have a strong opposition through alliances, failure to integrate ideals, values and manifestoes will remain a stumbling block.

Precedence has shown that past alliances have tended to target at removing the party in power. Once such objective fails the mergers have disintegrated soon after elections.

With just more than two years before the elections, the choice by the parties to form an alliance is a risky one that could determine the political future of the MMD, ZED and ABZ.

In an event that they work on fielding one candidate, it would be important that such arrangement is done now so that the bottle necks are identified and resolved before 2016.

Unless that is done, the AOPZ is following the footsteps of UDA, PF-ULP as well as PF/UPND pact which have all been prematurely relegated to the political history of the country.

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