By Paul Shalala
On Thursday 5 April 2012, MMD National Secretary Richard Kachingwe announced that the former ruling party will go for an “Extra-ordinary National Convention” in all the ten provinces on 25 June 2012. Major Kachingwe further announced that on the agenda will be the election of the new party president, amending the party constitution to include two vice presidents and also make amendments on the operations of party finances.
In layman’s language, holding a “National Convention” in the respective provinces is in essence having provincial conventions because having a National Convention means that provinces will send delegates to one meeting where the MMD will meet on 25th June but that’s not the case because party members will meet in provinces and not in one place.
Therefore, what MMD will have are provincial conventions and not a National Convention as announced by the retired diplomat who returned to Zambia last year to take up the MMD’s chief executive office at the time he was serving as Zambia’s High Commissioner to Malawi.
On the presidency, the MMD has an opportunity to choose a leader who is expected to unify and move the party forward. At the moment, the party seems disorganized and fatigued with the loss in last year’s general elections. These provincial conventions are therefore an opportunity for the party to put up a united front and make a comeback in 2016 if at all a formidable leader is chosen.
A repeat of what transpired at the 2011 MMD National Convention would damage the party further. MMD members need to bury their differences and embrace each other if the blue party is to live beyond 2016.
Five familiar names are likely to be on the ballot papers during the election to choose the new MMD president who will succeed former president Rupiah Banda who resigned a few weeks ago. These are Felix Mutati (Lunte MP and former Commerce Minister), Dr Situmbeko Musokotwane (Liuwa MP and former Finance Minister), Kabinga Pande (Kasempa MP and former Foreign Affairs Minister), Dr Nevers Mumba (former Vice President and former diplomat) and Moses Muteteka (Chisamba MP and former Local Government Deputy Minister).
All these men are capable of leading this opposition party but the hopes of many party members are that whoever wins, the losers should concede defeat and rally behind the winner. This however is very rare in Africa but MMD once demonstrated this in 2008 when many cabinet ministers fought to become presidential candidates after the demise of then President Levy Mwanawasa and after then acting President Rupiah Banda won the party nomination, all candidates rallied behind him.
On the push to amend the MMD constitution to accommodate two vice presidents, I see this to be a laughable matter because the MMD has made a serious u-turn exactly 12 months after the position was abolished. In April 2011, I covered the MMD extra-ordinary National Convention at Mulungushi Rock of Authority in Kabwe where the party amended the constitution and abolished the position of Vice President due to perceived skirmishes between then MMD Chairman for Elections Mike Mulongoti and then Vice President George Kunda who were both vying for the number two position in the party. The two were perceived to be frontrunners for the party vice presidency and they engaged themselves in a bitter war of words in the media which only ended when Mr Mulongoti was suspended and later expelled from the party and his cabinet portfolio as Works and Supply Minister as well as his nomination as an MP was also revoked by then president Rupiah Banda who was furious at Mulongoti for attacking Kunda in the media.
At that time, senior party officials supported the move to scrap off the number two party position saying the position of Vice president is a liability and it should be abolished. When delegates were given an opportunity to vote on the amendment, the whole gathering voted unanimously in favour of the amendment and the position was abolished immediately hence the current situation were the party has no Vice President. Therefore, my conclusion is this; the abolishing of the Vice presidency clause last year was not done in good faith because it was done to protect individuals at the expense of the party. It was public knowledge at the time that one perceived preferred candidate was poised to lose hence the need to protect him from an embarrassment. And this push for the re-introduction of the number two position in the party has exposed the MMD’s inconsistency in its leadership. What role is the Vice President going to play today when 12 months ago the same party resolved that the position was a liability?
In terms of its future, the MMD seems to have a place in people’s heart. Many people still support the party despite its bashing in last year’s polls. However, it risks falling in the same trap UNIP has fallen following its loss in the 1991 elections. The ball is in the MMD’s hands and its actions, messages and movements will be closely scrutinized by Zambian voters between now and 2016.
One of the biggest challenges of whoever will be elected the 4th MMD president on 25 June will face many challenges. The biggest of them all is the “corruption” tag which many senior party officials have accepted as being a problem. The party needs to work on this if it is to remain a viable party able to challenge the PF in 2016. MMD needs to play its public relations well because Zambians seem to ignore political parties easily once power slips aware. The party also needs a complete overhaul of its senior leadership if it is to appeal to new supporters and voters who are tired of the old faces who seem not to be meeting the needs of the common Zambian.
So the future of MMD will lie in the hands of its new president.