Zambia: 1968 Elections

Extracted from: KAELA, LCW 2002 "Zambia" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 378-379.

The 1968 elections, the first post-independence elections, were also held using the plurality or first-past-the-post system. National Assembly constituencies were increased from 75 to 105, each of which returned one member. The elections were contested by the ruling United National Independnce Party (UNIP), and the African National Congress (ANC), led by Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula. The United Party (UP), formed in 1966 by former cabinet minister Nalumino Mundia, was proscribed in 1968 and its leader detained. The party was accused of commiting violent acts, particularly on the copperbelt. However, the ruling party itaself also contributed to the violence. Upon release from detention Mundia and his followers joined the ANC. This move, as will be shown later, cost UNIP its National Assembly seats in Barotse (later renamed Western) Province.

The political parties were ethnically and regionally based. The Bemba-speaking people of Northern, Luapula and Copperbelt provinces and the Nyanja-speaking people of the Eastern and Central Provinces constituted the bulwark of UNIP's supporters. Likewise, the ANC mainly drew its support from the Tonga and Ila people of Southern Province and the Lenje people in Central Province. The UP's support base was anchored among the Lozi-speaking people of Barotse Province. It also threatened to make inrods into the copperbelt, especially the town of Chililabombwe.

The voting age was reduced to 18 years. A total of 1 587 966 registered to vote. This number represented 83% of eligible voters. The president and members of the National Assembly were to be directly elected. Nominations were done in November and the elections took place on 10 December, 1968. The campaign was characterised by widespread violence. UNIP members in Northern and Luapula Provinces blocked ANC candidates from lodging nomination papers. Partly as a result of this harassment of the opposition, UNIP candidates went through unopposed in 30 constituencies. UNIP won 81 seats against the ANC's 23. One independent candidate was also elected. However the ANC's absorption of former members of the proscribed United Party allowed it to take control of the Barotse Province by winning 8 seats out of eleven, thereby displacing the ruling party.

During the campaign UNIP tended to emphasize its achievements as a party in power vis-a-vis what it had promised when it came to power. The ANC was pointing out that more needed to be done and that UNIP was a tribal party. The latter referred to splits within UNIP that had been bared at its first post-independence congress which took place in 1967. The party's elections were irregular and conducted along ethnic and regional lines. From then on the party was torn by factionalism and Kaunda was prompted to resign in February 1968, only to rescind his decision. Nevertheless UNIP was still able to retain power after winning the elections. The situation changed, however, when 1972 veteran nationalist and right hand man of Kaunda, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe quit and formed the United Progressive Party (UPP) arguing that his fellow Bembas were being victimised in the party because of him. Although the UPP was proscribed, Kapwepwe's move appeared to have influenced the decision to introduce the one-party state the same year, ostensibly in the interest of national unity.

The decision was made by the party's central committee and the Commission appointed to get public views on the matter was precluded by its terms of reference from getting views on whether or not people accepted the one-party state. Another consequence of factionalism within UNIP was the strengthening of Kaunda's hand within the party and as a national leader as he was perceived to be above factional politics and the power accorded him was seen to be necessary for holding the party and the nation together.