Monday, July 08, 2013

Selfish motives and opposition unity
By Editor
Sun 30 June 2013, 14:00 CAT

Unity of the opposition may be desirable but it shouldn't be seen as a must. Opposition unity is not a matter of principle; it is a matter of expedience in the quest for power. And the value of it, the success of it will depend on the consensus among the political parties uniting.

Opposition alliances do well when those uniting are honest and principled people with common aims, standards and values.

And Elias Chipimo correctly observes, opposition alliances that are formed for the sole purpose of dislodging the ruling party are usually short-lived.

What we see with attempts at opposition alliances in Zambia today is that they are mainly guided by the wish to dislodge the ruling party from power; and by the determination to get themselves elected into office. That is not a recipe for a strong opposition alliance. What we see today are attempts at opposition unity brought about to win power. That appetite, will to win power is the one idea that the leaders of our opposition hold in common. But with the passage of time, that will prove an insubstantial glue. The signs of division in our opposition may today be no bigger than a small fish in a jar, but they will grow.
The disunity in the opposition is today clear to see. They must in the very near future learn to display common purpose which is fundamental to the success of any alliance they may engage in.
We are saying opposition unity is not a must because our experience is one of single opposition political parties winning elections on their own. Almost all our attempts at opposition alliances have failed. Even before independence, it proved extremely difficult to have an alliance of all the political parties that were opposed to British colonialism under one front.
In 2006, the opposition alliance of UPND, FDD and UNIP failed to defeat the MMD in that year's election. And in 2011, a single opposition political party, without any alliance, defeated the ruling MMD which had entered into an alliance with the opposition UPND.
Clearly, it is not how many political parties one assembles under a pact or alliance that matters when it comes to winning elections. MMD in power had with it UPND, Sakwiba Sikota's United Liberal Party, Edwin Sakala's Zambia Direct Democracy Movement and other parties. But they still lost the election to one opposition political party that was not in alliance with any other political party.
If political parties are weak on many fronts, aggregating those weaknesses will not necessarily turn them into strength. Of course, it is said that there is strength in unity. But the strength in unity does not come from the aggregation of weaknesses; it comes from the aggregation of strengths.
If opposition political parties are very weak, no matter how many of them come together they will not produce the strength that none of them has. The strength of a political alliance comes from the strengths of the alliance members. If the alliance members come with zero strength, no matter how many of them unite, the end result will be zero strength - zero plus zero equal to zero.
An opposition alliance that does not strength those coming together can lead to a blind alley. Of course, it is said that those who are ready to join hands can overcome the greatest challenges. But they must have hands to join. If they don't have hands to join, they will have nothing to join. And the greatest problem with our opposition is that most of those who seek unity have nothing to bring to that unity. Even those who have something to bring to the table, they withhold what they have and come to the table with empty hands - to get and not to give.
In this way, our political alliances are not meant to strengthen the collective. They are much more a platform for those who want to grab everything for themselves and leave others with nothing. They don't look at the common good of the alliance members, they look only at what they themselves can get, can grab.
Any deal where only one party to the deal benefits is not a deal at all.
And the views expressed by Elias on opposition alliances are very correct. And for any opposition alliance to succeed, the obstacles to opposition unity Elias has highlighted will need first to be addressed. Elias says, "For successful alliances to work, you need first of all to ensure that you share the same vision of where you want to go. Now if your vision is just to dislodge one administration from power, then that vision may not be long-lived. It may only result in chaos and frustration." This is true. If the only discernible preoccupation of a political party is to have a certain politician out of power, what happens if that person dies before they can get into power?
Today we have some political parties whose only basis or purpose for existence is their hatred for Michael Sata. What happens to their politics if tomorrow they are to wake up to find that Michael is not there?
There is one thing also that Elias has left out that hinders opposition unity: the individual ambitions of the key opposition leaders. We have people in opposition who joined politics or formed political parties for the sole purpose of them becoming presidents. Elias himself is a typical example of that. What opposition alliance can Elias engage in? Elias can only engage in an opposition alliance if it strengthens or guarantees his personal ambition to become president. Similarly, Hakainde Hichilema joined politics for the sole purpose of him becoming president. As such, Hakainde cannot be in any political formation that reduces his chances of being president. The UPND/Patriotic Front pact failed simply because Hakainde failed to make himself its presidential candidate. He was not ready to be anything other than that. And there is no political pact or opposition alliance that Hakainde will accept to be part of if he is not made its presidential candidate. This is the problem the MMD/UPND alliance has faced. This is what has led to its collapse. If MMD quickly accepted Hakainde's hegemony, their alliance would flourish and their party will quickly be devoured and swallowed by UPND. And all their problems or disagreements will end.
Again, as we have repeatedly stated, no true alliance can be built on the shifting sand of evasions, illusions and opportunism.

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