Thursday 25 October 2012

Obama-Romney Final Debate and the 6 November Elections

By Paul Shalala

When Democrat Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney sat down for their last debate on Tuesday morning before they face-off in the November 6 Presidential elections, many pundits wondered who would take the credit in the debate. In the two previous debates, Romney won the first one and the US President snatched the second one.

The third one was very divisive as it dealt with foreign policy. On the table were issues such as China, Iran, Afghanistan and Military spending. President Obama was coming to this debate with an upper hand because he had led the world's most powerful nation for the previous four years and he had dealt with most of the world's most difficult diplomatic engagements. These include Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Al Qaeda, Climate Change, Guantanamo, Africa and many others.

In terms of credentials, the US president was joining the debate with a track record of foreign policy. His republican challenger was entering the debate without any track record at all apart from his recent visit to the UK and Israel which some how was abit of a failure after he was reported to have failed to properly address UK opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and ended up calling him "Mr Leader." This is why during the debate, Romney kept on agreeing with Obama on almost all of the US president's foreign policy decisions.

As commander-in-chief, Obama also had another advantage of having first hand information on US military engagements worldwide. It is this privilege that Romney didn't have, leading him to embarass himself when he wanted to lie that the US Navy has more ships today than it had in 1916, a point that Obama later clarified as being the opposite.

All in all, Obama has won the third debate on foreign policy. These debates have a considerable impact on the way US voters choose their presidents due to the opportunity the platform offers in terms of policy proposals. From today on wards, US presidential candidates are expected to criss cross the country and campaign in the so-called "swing states" like Ohio and Florida which usually decide the occupant of the White House.

However, there are other US presidential candidates aside of Romney and Obama. These are usually not covered by the mainstream media but they eventually run for the White House.

Friday 12 October 2012

MUFUMBWE BY-ELECTION: Parties, Statistics and Geo-Politics

By Paul Shalala

Mufumbwe is one of the most famous constituencies in Zambia. Unfortunately the area's popularity is not for good reasons, its actually for bad reasons. Mufumbwe shot to prominence in April 2010 when at the height of campaigns for a parliamentary by-election, violence engulfed the whole constituency as political cadres fought in bloody battles which resulted in heavy casualties on either side. Then Police Chief Francis Kabonde was one of the people caught up in the violence. He was shown on TV running away from cadres in Mufumbwe when his base was invaded by cadres.

As voters will be trooping into various polling stations to vote for their new parliamentarian on 8 November 2012, the fear of violence will be high on their minds as its not too long ago when the previous by-election was held.

Why the by-election?
A few months ago, opposition MMD expelled its Mufumbwe MP Stephen Masumba for gross misconduct. This action came after Masumba accepted a presidential appointment in the Patriotic Front government as a
Deputy Minister He further campaigned heavily for the ruling party and delivered a ward in his constituency during by-elections held in July this year. Masumba appealed his expulsion to the courts but the MMD
won the case hence the by-election.

Mufumbwe is a relatively rural constituency. The constituency has 15 wards with a total of 27, 027 voters. According to the latest voters register, Mufumbwe has more women voters than men. In terms of representation among political parties, the MMD and UPND both have 7 councillors each while the PF has one councillor. On 11 October 2012, three candidates from the MMD, PF and UNIP successfully filed in their nominations to contest the vacant Mufumbwe parliamentary seat.

Mufumbwe is one of the 12 constituencies in North-Western Province. This is a region that is historically a fluid province that usually votes as a block. Voters in this area change their voting pattern from one election to another. At the moment, MMD has 8 seats, UPND has 3 and Mufumbwe (which was MMD) is the 12th seat which is currently vacant.

Strength of Parties

MMD is coming into this November by-election as a party that has held the seat since the 20 September 2011 general elections. The party has declared that it will contest the seat whether its alliance partner
UPND also fields a candidate or not. It will campaign on a promise of discipline and try hard to get back the seat. MMD is not new to Mufumbwe, it held the seat for many years and voters in the area know it very well. The party will boast a lot of the developmental projects the party brought to the region when it was in power, developments such as mines.

The Patriotic Front comes into the by-election with memories of its fresh victory in Shukwe ward of Mufumbwe. PF snatched Shukwe ward from MMD 3 months ago. The PF will also use its strength of incumbency to scoop Mufumbwe which will be its first ever seat in North-Western Province. Just like it won its first ever seat in Eastern Province through a by-election, PF will also try to win Mufumbwe and announce
its grand entry into the province. PF will count on its candidate Stephen Masumba, the immediate past MP to scoop the seat. Added to that, the PF also has Elliot Kamondo, the man who won the seat in 2010
and lost it last year to Masumba by 59 votes. According to some PF insiders, the two are likely to form a deadly campaign squad to ensure an easy victory for the ruling party.

Other Parties

The former ruling party UNIP is one of those courageous political parties that field candidates in almost all by-elections. Despite having a nationwide appeal, UNIP has declined and only has 3 councillors countrywide and no MP in Parliament. It has contested Mufumbwe to try and bring back its fortunes which keep declining everytime its candidates are on the ballots.

UPND is not contesting the seat, it has decided to back its alliance partner MMD. UPND shocked many when it snatched Mufumbwe in April 2010 from MMD in a by-election that was necessitated by the death of area MMD MP Misheck Bonshe who was also Home Affairs Deputy Minister. The party held the seat from 2010 till 2011 when Elliot Kamondo was beaten by MMD's Stephen Masumba through a difference of only 59 votes. Therefore, UPND still stands a chance if it contests.NAREP is another party that has a youthful appeal but has so far failed to send any of its candidates into an elected body. It may contest to get its first ever seat in parliament since its establishment in April 2010.

Campaign issues
Infrastructure development is likely to top the campaign speeches. Like any other rural constituency, Mufumbwe lacks good roads, good schools and health facilities. Both the ruling and opposition parties
are likely to use the campaign trail to emphasise the need for good infrastructure. Peace is another issue that is likely to feature highly in the campaign. Coming from the background of violence two years ago, politicians are likely to call for peace and ensure a smooth campaign.

Who wins?
Only the people of Mufumbwe will decide. Violence or no violence, apathy or no apathy, the verdict will be passed and a new lawmaker will enter Manda Hill courtesy of the votes from Mufumbwe.

Mufumbwe is likely to be heavily contested due to its strategic position in the North-Western Province. We are likely to see big guns from all contesting political parties setting base in the area to heavily campaign for their respective candidates. We are also likely to hear allegations of malpractices but what most Zambians wouldn't want to see is the repeat of the 2010 violence where then Police Chief Francis Kabonde was captured on TV hiding in a room from cadres who invaded the area where he was sheltering.