THE Economic Intelligence Unit says Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba’s return to the Patriotic Front has received only a lukewarm response from many the ruling party’s members. Mwamba, who was UPND vice-president and was Hakainde Hichilema’s running mate in the 2016 presidential election defected to the ruling Patriotic Front last month.
According to the May report, Mwamba’s defection would have little impact on long-term political stability in Zambia.
“At the time [of joining UPND], the former defence minister was seen as a political heavyweight who would raise the UPND’s profile among voters in the country’s northern regions, which are dominated by Zambia’s influential Bemba ethnic group (of which he is a member),” reads the report.
“However, although the UPND made some inroads in the country’s northern Muchinga and Northern provinces in 2016, the party still failed to win a single parliamentary seat there during the national elections. When giving his reasons for quitting the UPND and returning to the PF, Mwamba claimed to have been sidelined by Mr Hichilema, unsurprisingly since he had failed to be a game-changing candidate in terms of voting patterns.”
The EIU stated that the Bemba ethnic group was the largest in Zambia and tends to shape Zambia’s political direction.
It stated that in earlier times, Mwamba was an ardent critic of president Lungu, often accusing him of failing to stop corruption and plunder of resources by government officials.
“His return therefore came as a surprise and has received only a lukewarm response from many PF members, annoyed by his persistent claims of corruption within the ruling party,” reads the report. “As the jostling for positions takes root in the PF ahead of the party’s 2020 elective convention, Mr Mwamba may not receive much further political attention despite his past high-profile career in the PF. His defection will instead be used to try to discredit the opposition, especially the notion that Bemba voters should vote for a non-PF party to represent them.”
Meanwhile, the EIU anticipates political tensions to escalate between the ruling party and the opposition, heightened in part by Mwamba’s defection.
“However, his move will have little impact on long-term political stability in Zambia,” reads the report.
Meanwhile, the EIU stated that the PF government would become increasingly unpopular as a result of economic mismanagement and deepening autocracy.
It stated that given the planned heavy public borrowing, an IMF loan deal was not expected to be reached in the medium term.
“The Economist Intelligence Unit expects the ruling Patriotic Front, led by the president, Edgar Lungu, to remain in power. However, the government will become increasingly unpopular as a result of economic mismanagement and deepening autocracy. …Economic policy will remain erratic, with sudden changes to the regulatory environment as the government attempts to meet its spending needs,” reads the report.
The report also noted that revenue would rise as a result of tax increases, but the fiscal deficit would stay wide.
“From 2022, after the 2021 elections, we expect deep spending cuts to begin. High inflation will necessitate a tight monetary stance until 2021 when there will be a reversal of the stance from the central bank as inflationary pressures begin to diminish in 2022-23 as the fiscal deficit narrows. Real GDP growth will average 3.2 per cent a year in 2019-23. Detrimental changes to the tax regime will keep mining growth far below potential, especially in the early part of the forecast period, but the effects will be partly masked by government capital spending,” reads the report.
The report also predicted that the PF would retain power in 2021 but the country would face substantial threats to political stability.
Further, the report stated that in 2019-23, simmering popular frustration over economic and political grievances could quickly turn violent.
It added that the run-up to the 2021 legislative and presidential elections would be an “especially unstable period”.
It stated that the vulnerable government would narrow the political space aggressively and escalate crackdowns.
“Another layer of potential risk emanates from the growing influence of China in Zambia’s affairs, with growing suspicion that to get debt relief the government plans to sell off key state assets to China. This is not just an abstract concern: in late 2018 the issue caused rioting in the city of Kitwe. As public distrust of the government grows, open dissatisfaction and the administration’s intolerance of criticism will create a volatile mix. Protests could turn violent and, if disorder becomes widespread, extra security powers could come into force. On the one hand, this would act as a mechanism for bolstering overall stability; on the other, it would reinforce perceptions that Zambia is staggering towards autocracy and exacerbate underlying social tensions,” reads the report.
The report further noted that in the run-up to the 2021 elections, internal power struggles would take place within the PF.
“As Mr Lungu works to retain the presidency in 2021, potential rivals will be purged from the cabinet and possibly the party before PF nominations in 2020. After a ruling by the Constitutional Court declaring that he was eligible to stand for another term (his critics claim that he has already served the maximum of two), the president publicly hinted that some party factions had been maneuvering to seek the candidacy were he to be barred from standing,” read the report.
“By the time of the election in 2021, the possibility of Zambia’s being caught in a debt trap, characterised by a loss of economic sovereignty to creditors will be a key concern among voters. Because of high debt-servicing costs, fiscal space will also have been tightened, causing salaries to be frozen and subsidies cut. With Mr Lungu’s popular support looking weaker than ever, we expect elections to be neither free nor fair, with the government making maximal use of its incumbency advantages.”
The report added that the UPND, jointly with a new generation of opposition parties, would have to surmount the aforesaid challenges.
The report added that a revitalised MMD could also emerge as a notable political force.