Sunday, 22 February 2015

Will The MMD Be Standing in 2016?

By Gershom Ndhlovu

The Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) may be experiencing death throes from the effects of the January 20 elections in which the party, credited for the reintroduction of plural politics in the country nearly a quarter of a century earlier, was—to use one of politician George Mpombo’s bombastic words—was shellacked with its candidate, pastor turned politician, Dr Nevers Mumba scoring less than the total rejected votes but officially came out fourth. But when was the mortal blow struck for the once popular if not promising party?
Before answering the first question, maybe there is need to pose another question: will the MMD be standing both as a party and in the 2016 elections?
MMD President Dr Nevers Mumba's image from his Facebook wall.

The MMD, in the run up to the 2015 presidential elections, was clearly split three ways—those supporting the return of former President Rupiah Banda who later threw their weight behind the current ruling party, Patriotic Front (PF) candidate Edgar Lungu since elected as republican president, those supporting the candidature of UPND president Hakainde Hichilema, and, of course, the few supporting Dr Mumba whose leadership isbeing called disastrous. The echoes of the split are still reverberating across the wider political spectrum at the time of writing.
Much to the shock of most political observers, Dr Mumba has elected to expel party national secretary Muhabi Lungu, national chairman Kabinga Pande and over 20 other officials some of whom are MPs. These expulsions come at the time the party has lost parliamentary seats through petitions. Therefore, once the seats of the expelled MPs are declared vacant, the MMD will have a tough time competing with the ruling and other opposition parties for the same seats.


2016 Presidential And Parliamentary Elections

What will make things even more difficult for the MMD as other political parties especially those in the opposition is the fact that they will have to start looking for resources for the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections. What is worse is that a number of MMD MPs have threatened to withhold their monthly contribution to the party if Dr Mumba does not call for a national convention at which all positions will be open to contest.
What should equally worry staunch MMD supporters, if there are any, are rumours of a possible merger between the former ruling party, in power for 20 years until it was ousted in in the 2011 election by the PF.
Coming to the question of when the mortal blow was struck, it, obviously, is not in the aftermath of President Michael Sata's death on October 28, 2014 in London where he had gone for what his administration officials said was a medical check-up after months of denying he was not well. The deadly blow was delivered nearly a decade and half earlier.
Immediately after Mr Sata—he once served as MMD National Secretary—died, jostling for the top position in his party and by extension, in government, ensued with up to 11 PF members including his widow Christine Kaseba, his son Mulenga Sata, his nephew and an in-law joining the race of those that wanted to replace him. 
The man he left the instruments of power on the trip that led to his expiration, Lungu, eventually emerged tops, taking over the reins of both the party and government in an equally highly contested and tight race.
But as much as Sata’s death triggered a power struggle within his own party, it also did the same in the MMD with the former MMD and Republican President Banda trying to make a come-back to contest the republican presidency. Banda’s bid was overturned by the courts of law that maintained that Mumba was the bona fide candidate. This move in itself lost Mumba the support of senior members who went on to support Lungu following Banda who threw his weight behind Lungu’s candidature, and others who went on to support UPND’s Hakainde Hichilema.


Chiluba’s Third Term Curse

MMD’s problems go back to 1999 when it became apparent that the then party and Republican President Frederick Chiluba was stoking calls among some provincial and district youth leaders all or most of whom he gave the newly created position of District Administrator since changed to District Commissioner, for him to go for a third term or perhaps even beyond had it gone through. At first this was not taken seriously until Ben Mwila, Chiluba’s putative uncle, was expelled from the party for showing interest in the MMD and republican presidency after Chiluba’s two terms as provided for by the constitution.
When other senior members who included Republican Vice President General Christon Tembo and party Vice President General Godfrey Miyanda realised what was going on, forged ranks with the opposition to oppose Chiluba’s third term scheme. As expected, Tembo, Miyanda and 20 other members who included Edith Nawakwi were expelled from the MMD and barred from attending the national convention at which Chiluba was re-elected to continue as party president.
Chiluba, however, did not have time to manipulate the national constitution like he did the party constitution. He had to truncate the process of picking a successor which should have been done by a national convention, settling for Levy Mwanawasa who had been his party and Republican Vice President until his resignation in 1994 alleging growing corruption in the then three year old MMD government. Mwanawasa was to challenge Chiluba at the MMD second national convention in 2005 but lost as he was decampaigned on his personal challenges he had suffered following a road traffic accident just two months into the new MMD government.


How Sata Left The MMD

The picking of Mwanawasa as the 2001 presidential candidate did not go very well with Sata who was then the party National Secretary. In that position, he had supported Chiluba’s third term scheme and seen off the likely successors in Tembo and Miyanda. The mantle, definitely, was going to fall on him until Chiluba showed what he had always called his political engineering skills by bringing in Mwanawasa who at the time was just an ordinary party member.
Sata left the MMD three months before the presidential and general elections to form his own Patriotic Front and lost three successive presidential elections before beating Banda, the man who succeeded Mwanawasa in a mixture of both good and bad fortune. Banda had been made vice president by Mwanawasa even as it was common knowledge that he was a UNIP member. He later took over top most office when Mwanawasa died while on international duty in Egypt where he collapsed and rushed to a military hospital in France.
For me, if the MMD had, in 2001, let the internal democratic process take due course with members electing Chiluba’s successor, the party would still be standing in one piece, and would probably still be in office today.

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