>>But Can They Find The Right Campaign Messages<<
By Nyalubinge Ngwende
Elections are won far away before the polling day. It is the campaign messages that build all the way to the polling day that give the opposition the favour of opinion polls.
But it is not every message that wins an election; people must interpret those messages into their social lives and see the reality.
Therefore opposition leaders in Zambia must not be cheated, reliance on the negative views in The Post Newspaper will not help them win the 2016 elections against the ruling Patriotic Front.
The first reason is that the PF message of pro-poor policies is still well-grounded among the call boys, necessity entrepreneurs and others who could be categorized as the street-wise life earners.
Taxi drivers in Lusaka own their own cars because Sata and his vice President Guy Scott bought them the cars on loan which they have paid back. The salary hikes, enforced through the minimum wage, for shopkeepers and unskilled public workers across the labour market is still a delight.
On top of this the labour ministry has adopted a continuation theory, repeating its message to improve the working conditions of the poor workers by visiting factories and construction sites to openly give the workers a voice for safety and other good working conditions. To the workers, the PF government cares for them.
For this the opposition will have to find a good reason that resonates with voters to water down the PF policies concerning labour relations—albeit the tilt of the policy in favour of workers and not capital.
Will the opposition think through minimum wage and convince the people of Zambia that minimum wage is not necessarily a tool to reducing poverty and inequality in the face of an economy that hardly produce? Will the opposition show something better in terms of viable industries? Can they make a Zambian middle class see an opportunity to own decent housing, adequately serviced with clean water and good sanitation, beyond where the minimum wage ends? Its food for thought, but time is running out.
Secondly, there is the new retirement law that is unpopular, but it excites those who were on their way out of the public service after clocking 55 years at the end of this year or next.
Keeping someone in employment, especially if one was not ready to retire is an incentive in the Zambian setup where very few people are ready to work on their own and the government is their guardian to ensure they put bread on the table every day through a monthly pay.
The opposition will have to find a better way to turn this policy mishap to their advantage, but it will take a thorough thought that will annoy the unemployed youth about this policy.
The opposition will also need to see how the junior officers who were eyeing to rise in rank in the next two years will not see that chance in the next 10 years because the person in the next senior position has now 10 years more to leave that position.
In other words promotions have been frozen in the public service, and the only thing that now remains is to look at the angel of death with anxiety for one to get a rise in their career.
Does anyone in the opposition see the cost of this policy in terms of the efficiency in the public service?
If a director in a ministry or department is incompetent, then government says it is securing that incompetence in a 45-year old director on public cost for the next 10-20 years. Unless the public service commission finds a good reason of incompetence or fault to retire such a one on public interest, this country has a huge problem at hand, and it is armoury for opposition with a little more thought.
Thirdly, the new districts and scattered infrastructure may not translate into any economic sense at present among the elite.
But new secondary schools yet to open, and when they do, will still be filled by children from the line of rail, hospitals that may have no medicines and medical personnel and a push to tarmac the major roads, delights a lot of those people who have lived without seeing modern construction.
The PF still has a strong opinion leadership following in the communities who are telling others that this is development that their areas did not see in the last 50 years.
One would argue this point, but the messages in the news of the opposition political parties, including those from the opposition Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) and United Party for National Development (UPND), are yet to rise to that required frame that will present need for change of government.
The rise to that frame, how people will see and interpret PF and Edgar Lungu as bad government and leadership, requires more than the headlines and baseless negativity peddled on the online media and The Post Newspaper.
Most important, let the opposition pick up opinion leaders in the community who will interpret campaign messages into daily lives of the voters. The papers and radio stations can just tap into the messages of opinion leaders who are closer and speak on behalf of the ruling party which still enjoys the majority in terms of last presidential polls.
The opposition leaders are not talking to anyone in the bigger churches like the Catholic on anything and what the Church is criticizing the PF for over the constitution is not overlapping with the public opinion—as at now which is not against PF and Lungu.
The Catholics won on behalf of PF against MMD using the constitution issue because of the hefty allowances the National Constitution Conference was paying its delegates. It was not the importance of the constitution, but spending heavily on the constitution in the midst of poverty that angered the people against MMD. Sata seized the opportunity and chased 20 plus of his MPs who were part of the ‘NCC plunder’.
No opposition leader and social groups has found what is resonating to tell the people why the constitution is important. The messages do not connect to their concerns of social security or cultural situation.
There is no one who has created the urgency of national security in the frame of a poor economy underpinned by the constitution in its current form. The argument is more about the clauses and not the attributes of those clauses.
Talking about powers of the President must be what opposition leaders should articulate among themselves, but how those powers perpetuate our underdevelopment (economically and democratically) as a country should be what is told to the members of the public, especially the rural ilk.
The PF voice on the constitution might win the argument because Lungu is saying no more spending on the process…“let the contentious issues be included through using the normal legislative institution, apart from the clauses that will require a referendum”.
Wynter Kabimba, who went the route that the country finds itself in over the constitution, is no longer in PF and that gives Edgar Lungu a good excuse.
Unless there will be increased pressure from within the Church whereby priests and pastors start talking directly against Lungu’s administration and get courage to tell the Christians not to vote for PF, the 2016 PF Defeat may be in sight but yet far.
Bishop Tresphord Mpundu has already marked his words that the constitution is not the only urgent and necessary thing that this country requires, telling those who are trying to make the constitution appear otherwise to moderate their claims.
This goes the same way with social experts in workers’ unions. They have distanced themselves from any opposition against government over the constitution.
The labour movement is divided. They may coalesce around an opposition party that may carve the best deal for the public service, including a good retirement policy than the current proposed scandal by the PF cabinet.
Union leaders need to own up and tell workers that it is not fat salaries that make the economy better; it is a strong economy that produces beyond the primary products.
The name and image of Sata is still stuck on the PF and if there was more liking for the imagery aspect of the PF than its ability to manage the economy, including among the intellectuals along the line of rail, there is a likelihood that they will still vote for PF.
The 2011 vote for the PF was not closer to anything else, but irrational and emotional populist appeal of Michael Sata, desperately reinforced by The Post Newspaper that had its personal political reasons to serve.
The Post echoed Sata and his sympathisers. And that frame of corruption in MMD was repeatedly and widely interpreted by the Church and disgruntled public officials who saw an opportunity for jobs in PF.
The MMD had been weakened by its own achievements. The economy was performing, but it did not guard against the deals it was cutting that were portrayed as acts of corruption that benefited those in leadership. Remember the Dandy Crazy song? Even popular music spoke of the MMD corruption that ignored the plight of the poor.
Unfortunately, there is lack of a problem to name and blame Edgar Lungu for as cause of economic problems in the country like it was during the run to 2011 election campaigns against the MMD.
Fourthly, use of the ‘Beer’ frame against Edgar Lungu as his weakness and inability to run the country finds different mental structures among the widely imbibing electorate in Lusaka and elsewhere.
Lusaka residents, like most Zambians do, drink and they do it heavy. And after drinking they still have duties to hustle and find more money for more drink. It does not matter if they steal from government or blow up their hard earned incomes to keep up appearances in beer places. They value life by mingling in bars.
Therefore drinking is a popular culture than religion in Zambia hence, the beer tag on Edgar is not an issue. No wonder they are now calling the bigger Castle Lager bottle as chi-Edgar or chi-Chagwa, in reverence of the President we are told has had moments enjoying his drink.
No one will benefit from The Post’s use of opposition voices to conflict with the current PF government on shallow issues like beer or the health of the President.
FDD leader Edith Nawakwi, just like ADD’s Charles Milupi, is talking too much but without potency and content enough to blow the trumpet.
And lastly, apart from the fall at Heroes Stadium, if Lungu remains strong throughout, his health questions may not be an election issue. Zambians sympathise with the weak and are less tolerant to those who mock others over illness.
PF 2016 Defeat Is in Sight, but what will bring that defeat is the homework for opposition leaders hunt, skin and mount on wall in the bedroom of every Zambian voter an issue that would make Lungu and PF to be seen leading the country on a bad path. That issue must not be abstract and elitist, but appealing to the common voter.