Mulenga Sata of the governing Patriotic Front (PF) has defected to Zambia's main opposition, the United Party for National Development (UPND), ahead of the Aug. 11 general election, according to the UPND.
Sata, a former province minister for the capital of 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.
Cornelius Mweetwa, deputy spokesman for UPND, says Sata's defection serves as a significant boost to the party in the runup to the polls.
The move also heightens the perception that the governing party is imploding, Mweetwa says, adding that undecided voters might now be persuaded to join the main opposition party.
“PF is no longer what it used to be,” Mweetwa said. “PF has been hijacked by the very people that Mr. Sata fought very had to eliminate from the political leadership of this country in 2011. … As the son to the founder of the PF, I think his decision to leave the PF speaks volumes of the level of disintegration of the Patriotic Front ahead of the 2016 elections."
Analysts say the defection is a major blow to the re-election bid of Lungu and his ruling PF party, especially in light of the new constitution rules which require a candidate to receive at least 50 percent and one vote of all the votes cast. Previously, a candidate could be declared the winner with a simple majority.
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,” Bwalya said. “… 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 — 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.
Supporters also predict that Sata's jump to the UPND will negatively impact that party in the polls.
Mweetwa disagreed, saying that Sata’s hands-on experience in the current administration cannot be wished away.
“Remember, this is somebody who President Lungu made his minister,” Mweetwa said, “… if he was deficient, why was President Lungu making him a minister?"