by Maximilian Mainza
Campaigns for the January 20th presidential by elections have reached the peak with political players endorsing candidates they think will carry the day. What is interesting is the number of candidates and the way in which political players are endorsing their preferred candidates. It is known that political endorsements’ impact depends on the level of ideological congruence between the voters and the source of endorsements and on elite clues, voter behavior and representation. Ideally, voters reward candidates when they perceive that the endorsing newspaper/politician is ideologically similar to their preferences but punish the endorsed candidates when they perceive that the source is ideologically distant.
The campaigns for the 20 January presidential by election have been characterized by endorsements after endorsements for the two leading candidates in the race to State House – Edgar Lungu (EL) of the Patriotic Front (PF) and Hakainde Hichilema (HH) of the United Party for National Development (UPND). The most eye-catching endorsement for Edgar Lungu is that of former president Rupiah Banda, and a group of Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) MPs and National Executive Committee (NEC) members. Rupiah Banda was poised to stand as MMD presidential candidate before the Supreme Court ruling that disqualified him to stand on the MMD ticket in favor of Nevers Mumba. This may backfire for the Edgar Lungu camp, given that Rupiah Banda’s popularity among the electorates is questionable following the manner in which he lost the 2011 Presidential elections to the late Michael Sata. However, recent comments published by online media and the Post newspaper indicate that Rupiah Banda is doing it for personal benefits because he thinks Edgar Lungu has a higher chance of winning the elections than the MMD candidate, Nevers Mumba. Furthermore, Rupiah’s son, Andrew, has accused his father is supporting Edgar for selfish political reasons, and of a lack of patriotism towards the country he once ruled as President.
On the other hand, the main challenger to Edgar Lungu, Hakainde Hichilema has also received endorsements from a group of MMD MPs and NEC members, including former first lady Maureen Mwanawasa, Alliance for Development and Democracy (ADD) president Charles Milupi, some former ministers in the Mwanawasa government, and most recently, two PF MPs, Geoffrey Mwamba and Sylvia Masebo. Many HH endorsements appear to be a result of intra-party conflicts in the PF and MMD, which has led to factions openly campaigning for their preferred candidate regardless of the party to which they belong. Some of these endorsements are genuine, while others may be for selfish reasons. And the party most affected is the MMD, whose members are divided into three factions, those supporting MMD, PF and UPND.
The question is how important these endorsements will be in influencing the electorates, come 20 January, 2015. It is likely that these endorsements for either EL or HH will have an impact on the outcome of the elections given that the endorsers have a considerable following from their provinces and can even influence the undecided voters whose ideologies are similar to the endorsers. So far the opinion polls have been in favor of HH, though one might question the methods used and the credibility of the publishers of the polls. Nevertheless, the endorsements may sway the mood of voters given the daily shifting and realigning of the campaign strategies of frustrated politicians and other political players.