Mulenga Sata, formerly of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), says he defected to Zambia's main opposition because he was disillusioned and unhappy with what he says is the lack of fiscal discipline to change the country’s economic outlook to improve the lives of citizens.
Sata's defection to the United Party for National Development (UPND) comes just months ahead of the August 11 general election.
He said he couldn’t stand by and do nothing when there are things “seriously” wrong with the way the current administration is running the country. He said PF party officials routinely share with him their frustration and disillusionment of the government and what it is doing wrong.
“With the Patriotic Front, what used to happen before is that you have to come up through the ranks to gain seniority to achieve those senior positions. What is happening now is that people are coming in left, right and center, and some of them quite obnoxious members and these are things that were injurious to me and others in the party,” said Sata.
“If I felt the party was drifting right back to the very thing that we were fighting when the PF was formed to fight the party in government where it becomes politics of the expediency rather than principle. There is also the rampant mismanagement of the economy. ... And I felt that that kind of cavalier approach to run the affairs of the country is something that cannot be tolerated. We need some rigor, some discipline in the way we conduct issues.”
Against father's legacy
Sata, a former province minister for the capital, Lusaka, is the son of the deceased president and founder of the PF. Sata also served as minister in the office of incumbent President Edgar Lungu. In an interview with VOA, Sata denied accusations that his defection amounts to kicking against his father’s legacy.
“I was approached by various parties when it became clear that I wasn’t particularly happy in the Patriotic Front. I had a choice, either to retire from politics, concentrate on my family and personal life or make a symbolic point and join forces with another political entity to hopefully influence some positive change in our dispensation,” he said.
“The legacy of my father goes beyond just the Patriotic Front… His whole life is a something that we can look to for motivation and guidance. Yes he formed the party, but he formed the party for the people of Zambia, people that bought into his ideals of which I was one of them at the time. It was never considered a party for the Sata family and that was something that he made clear at all point…So for me if at some point there was a divergence as difficult and sentimentally attached as I was to this particular party, I felt that it was something that needed to be done.”
Major blow to ruling party
Analysts say the defection is a major blow to the re-election bid of Lungu and his ruling PF party.
The governing party, however, says Sata's defection is unlikely to hurt the PF’s prospects of victory.
Frank Bwalya, deputy spokesman for the PF, called on supporters to respect Sata’s decision, but emphasized that the move is no reflection on Lungu’s ability to unite the party.
"We want to urge all our members to pray for Mr. Sata,” said Bwalya. “… we also want to make it very clear again that the people who are leaving to join other political parties, including UPND, are not doing so because President Lungu has refused to accommodate them."
PF supporters say Sata defected after failing to present a Grade 12 certificate or high school diploma equivalent - a minimum requirement in the new constitution to hold government positions. His departure, they add, illustrates the governing party’s dedication to the constitution, regardless of a person's political affiliation or influence.
Sata said the allegations about the certificate are bizarre. He said back in 1996 there was nothing like Grade 12.
“Even if I didn’t have the Grade 12 certificate or equivalent, what would it do me to jump into another party? It is symptomatic of the shallow thinking sometimes in our political circles. I have no problems with my academic qualifications, I produce them as and when I need to. I have gone to well known, world renowned schools all over the world. I attended a school in Gaborone, Botswana called Maru-a-Pula [an independent school] for my GCE-O level…I went to another world famous school in Swaziland called Waterford Kamhlaba, it’s part of the United World College of Southern Africa, I did my international baccalaureate there,” said Sata.