from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – AFTER months of speculation, Edgar Lungu has come out of retirement and returned to active politics, setting the tone for a bruising presidential election in Zambia.
The ex-president has made an emphatic return with a pledge to save his factionalised (ex-ruling) party from collapse and stop Zambia’s further slide down into a dictatorship.
This two-fold mission has sent shockwaves among corridors of his party’s and the ruling counterpart, and surely raises temperatures in the Southern African country’s toxic politics.
Lungu led the Patriotic Front (PF) to defeat his main rival, eventual winner Haikande Hichilema and the United Party for National (UPND) in the 2021 elections.
To the PF, his return to politics is in some quarters projected to worsen the infighting. Different factions are battling for the control of the party that led from 2011, ten years after its formation by Michael Sata, now-late.
Lungu was president from 2015, finishing Sata’s term a year later, and only winning one term after that. Under Sata, he was minister of home affairs, then defence.
While he pledges to fight dictatorship, critics accused him of running Zambia with an iron fist.
Despite that, he has gained support after his defeat and eventual retirement. Opponents of Hichilema believe democracy is worse off with the current president at the helm, citing that the new administration is harassing the ex-president and his family.
His wife, former first lady Esther Lungu, has been subject of a corruption probe and other cases such as theft of motor vehicles and title deeds.
There have been threats to strip Mr Lungu of the benefits enjoyed by the ex-president when Hichilema’s administration came to power because of PF’s outspokenness of the government.
Thus, because of his comeback, that privilege is forfeited, raising sentiment he would be charged, after the rival UPND accused his administration of corruption and human rights abuses when he led the Southern African country.
“I am prepared to suffer all manner of consequences. I know there are consequences and I will face them,” he told jubilant supporters in Lusaka this past weekend.
Lungu must hit the ground running bringing sanity back to the PF, which is still enduring an electoral loss hangover.
It has been threatened with de-registration by the government after it failed to provide a list of office bearers since the poll setback.
That is because polls have been repeatedly delayed by the interim leadership, which since Lungu’s declaration of a comeback has been referring to him as the party president.
A faction led by Miles Sampa, said to be a product of infiltration by UPND, has claimed control of the party from the interim provisional one led by Given Lubinda.
Apparently, Sampa is alongside National Chairperson Davies Chama, suspended by the Lubinda-led administration.
Lungu waded into the issue.
“As long as I live, I will not allow PF to die. I won’t allow factions or opportunistic individuals to destroy the party,” Lungu declared.
There was a heavy presence of police this week at the PF Secretariat amid the fierce wrangle over control of the headquarters and after reports that Lungu would be holding a press conference on Sunday.
Lubinda’s PF alleged police had used live ammunition to disperse its supporters.
Sampa on the day maintained he is the president of the PF.
“New PF disassociates itself from thuggery and hooliganism conduct back on our streets,” he said.
“Anyone using the name of the party to commit such crimes is on their own and the law should visit them.”
Lungu had earlier called on opposition parties in Zambia to work together to save the country from “the abrogation of the rule of law” under the UPND.
The ruling party said it “welcomed” news that Lungu had decided to join the political fray once more.
Spokesperson, Ruth Dante Heaton, said the political environment since Lungu had resigned and was no longer characterised by violence, cadreism and intolerance and failure to divergent views.
“We pray and hope that Mr Lungu will learn to operate within the prevailing peaceful political environment devoid of pangas and political violence,” she said.
“Zambia has been a peaceful nation in the last two years under the leadership of the UPND and President Hichilema and any attempts to deviate the country from that trajectory will be met with the rule of law,” she said.
– CAJ News