Zambian political parties are gearing up for the 2011 general elections which are likely to be one of the hotly contested polls ever in the country’s young democracy.
Next year, Zambian voters will be voting for their councilors, members of parliament and their republican President.
These elections are likely to be heated because we now have more political parties than ever before in the history of this country.
We also know that political parties will be or are already moving around constituencies canvassing for new voters to back their candidates.
Aside of door to door campaigns and public rallies, another battleground has already been discovered and a number of political parties are already in that field wooing potential supporters.
In case you might be wondering which battleground this is, I’m talking about the internet.
A number of political parties have realized that the internet (Facebook in particular) is a rich and good platform for politicians to win supporters.
During US President Barack Obama’s campaigns for the White House between 2007 and 2008, his campaign strategists realized that the internet was the best platform to woo young voters and for sure the first black US President was made Commander-in-Chief with the help of the voters on the internet.
In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan has resorted to campaigning on Facebook for his 2011 re-election campaign, he actually announced his presidential bid on Facebook.
My recent research of Zambian political parties campaigning on the internet has revealed that fewer than five political parties have joined the 2011 general elections “cyber war” on Facebook.
Leading these Facebook campaigns is the ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) followed by the opposition National Restoration Party (NAREP), the United Party for National Development (UPND) and the largest opposition political party (in terms of seats in parliament) the Patriotic Front (PF).
The MMD leads in terms of daily updates of political issues and other comments on current affairs.
MMD Spokesperson Dora Siliya is very active on Facebook and she posts an average of three posts per day and responds to almost all comments she receives from Facebook users.
Ms Siliya also updates the MMD’s Facebook page daily.
This also gives an opportunity to her supporters, critics and observers (like me) to comment, ask questions or “shoot” her on her party’s conduct in national affairs.
NAREP is second most active political party in Zambia in the political campaigns on Facebook.
NAREP National Youth Coordinator John Phiri also updates his party’s Facebook page not on a daily basis but twice or thrice a week.
Mr. Phiri gives NAREP supporters and sympathizers an update on his party president Elias Chipimo Jr’s itinerary in political campaigns.
Despite the party taking part in the on-going campaigns for the Chilanga parliamentary by-election, not many updates have been posted on this topic.
The NAREP Facebook platform could have been the best to introduce their party candidate Valerie for the said by-election.
The UPND is also present on the internet though its president Hakainde Hichilema’s pages are rarely updated.
Mr. Hichilema has more than one page and this leaves potential voters to wonder which one of the three pages is the opposition leader’s official page and mouthpiece.
Despite UPND Lusaka Province Youth Coordinator Brian Hapunda being present and active on Facebook, not much comes from him in terms of his party’s activities and campaigns.
Mr. Hapunda’s postings are usually personal and religious.
As a young politician, he could have used his personal and party Facebook pages to galvanise support for the 2011 general elections.
The PF is also present on Facebook.
The party’s president Michael Sata has a page which is rarely updated.
Since the PF is popular among urban people going by the elections results of 2006 and 2008, the party could have utilized online campaigns as there are more people online in urban areas where the internet is accessible.
In terms of the UPND-PF Electoral Pact on the internet, I have come across three pages on Facebook purporting to be campaigning for it.
These pages have proved to be popular on the internet though some online discussions have brought heated exchanges on the sustainability of the one year old electoral pact.
In the 2008 presidential elections, another cyber war was waged.
The opposition PF, UPND and the ruling MMD had launched websites for their presidential candidates.
This helped voters to have access to latest information on the activities of these respective political parties.
As we drift towards the 2011 general elections, it is my hope that more and more political parties will utilize the internet and learn the strategy President Obama used to beat his Republican Party rival Senator John McCain in the 2008 US presidential elections.
By Paul Shalala