How UPND miscalculated the NDF numbers game

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From calling on UPND lawmakers to boycott the National Dialogue Forum (NDF) to threatening those who defied his directive to abscond the event that they would not be adopted as candidates in 2021 general elections, the UPND president Hakainde Hichilema has not only lost 17 UPND lawmakers but failed to win support for his self-aggrandizing dictatorial tendencies.

It is absolutely imperative that the UPND top leadership needs strategists to help them think through this miscalculated NDF numbers game, it has all along had a terrible record of misjudgment and bungling things up.

Understandably, it is a UPND implosion that has been years in the making. Considering the practicality of this unsolicited development, the PF would do well to consider adopting the same lawmakers who may be sidelined by the UPND so as to have a command in some of the parts of the country that have been perceived to be the opposition party’s strongholds. However, the affected 17 UPND lawmakers should not get mad but they should get even with the UPND top leadership by supporting the Constitutional Amendment Bill when it is eventually presented in parliament so that the two-thirds majority is assured for its final enactment.

The key question now becomes: Could Parliament’s PF majority thwart UPND’s NDF boycott? Most likely it would, more so with the support from the willing opposition UPND, MMD, FDD, nominated and independent MPs who were delegates at the just-ended NDF. In many ways, with the sidelining of the defiant 17 UPND lawmakers by the party’s top leadership, Parliament’s voting patterns are surely going to be reconfigured when the Constitutional Amendment Bill is presented in Parliament, and pundits are already wondering what might happen to the adoption of candidates for the 2021 general elections.

Suffice to say, the Zambian constitution is a mysterious thing. It is not written down in any single place. It is sometimes frustratingly fuzzy. Yet on the most important subject of all – where sovereignty lies – it is crystal clear. Sovereignty does not lie with the government. It does not lie, thank God, with that dangerous abstraction, “the people”. It lies with Parliament, and ultimately with the National Assembly.

Hakainde Hichilema has tried his best to massage this inconvenient constitutional fact into a manageable political gaffe. He indicated that the party would not impose any sanctions on MPs attending the NDF as that would sway the attention of Zambians on issues affecting the nation and with it his ability to bribe and bully his MPs. He argued that MPs attending the NDF would not be adopted in the 2021 polls but were at the moment not being punished because doing so would be illegal. But it was as if the spirit of parliamentary sovereignty was determined to frustrate him as intimidating a parliamentarian was a serious offence under the National Dialogue Forum Act of 2019.

First, the UPND MPs defied an earlier party instruction to boycott the talks claiming that the NDF was against human rights. Then, the defiant UPND MPs apparently gave notice of their intention to attend the talks at which point the top leadership back-tracked to suggest that MPs would attend on the dictates of their conscience. Even though, the top UPND leadership was enraged by the decision of the initial 17 MPs to attend the NDF without authorization, the fact is that the UPND top leadership could not punish its rebel MPs who attended the NDF as it was afraid of being arrested and arraigned in the courts of law.

Perhaps, having seen his threat not to adopt its rebel MPs in the next elections would have his party possibly being defeated in 2021 polls, Hakainde Hichilema may have finally admitted that as things stood his threat was no olive branch which he was offering to his defiant lawmakers; it really was poison ivy which he was holding out for them to defiantly support the Constitutional Amendment Bill once it was tabled in parliament. This is the reason why the UPND leader has to perform a post-NDF balancing act.

Never mind the self-confident-sounding political rhetoric, the UPND leader is aware that PF will be a very tough opponent in parliament. It will be interesting to see if UPND would manage to stop the passing of the Constitutional Amendment Bill once it’s tabled in parliament.

Whatever happens when the Constitutional Amendment Bill is tabled in parliament and even if Hakainde Hichilema’s threat not to adopt the 17 UPND MPs in the next elections who were delegates at the NDF is given a clean bill of health by the UPND top honchos, the fact remains that the 17 UPND MPs who attended the NDF have already been handed a raw deal: the UPND leader seems besotted with running the party as his personal estate.

As for the UPND’s authorization to its MPs to attend the NDF, Zambians are hoping those condemned for being NDF delegates would be afforded a quick and fair hearing in the party. Only then will the truth be known as to whether indeed there was no authorization for UPND MPs to attend the NDF or, as usual, it was just UPND diehard loyalists playing out their power and NDF numbers games.

Only a two-third majority of parliamentary MPs – 104 out of 156 – are needed to vote in favour of the Constitutional Amendment Bill for its passing and subsequent enactment. The ruling PF’s 88 MPs would effectively depend on the back of opposition votes from willing UPND, MMD, FDD and independent MPs. By all accounts, Hakainde Hichilema has failed to frustrate the NDF efforts, so far, because he could not win over and bully UPND rebel MPs around, who were mostly from Western and North-Western provinces.

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