Malawi on the road to 2014: Wise One’s counsel

Foreword:

The elections taking place today in Kenya are more than enough to catalyse one into thinking about Malawi’s own general elections scheduled for May 2014.

In as far as Malawi is concerned, an accident of fate in April 2012 restructured the political landscape to an extent inconceivable at the beginning of that year.

While the new kid on the block, the Peoples’ Party (PP) found itself unpredictably in the driving seat, the Democratic Progressive (DPP) – then decimated by defections – was relegated to opposition benches.

The dust has now settled and Malawi’s major political parties and players are putting their act together for 2014. The PP and the United Democratic Front (UDF) have since held their conventions; and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the DPP have theirs on the cards, at which they will endorse or elect torch-bearers.MEC

Since commenting on the yet to be held conventions would tantamount to speculation, we should hold our peace and wait patiently for the outcomes.

But this does not stop us from examining other factors peripheral to the road to 2014.

Quick Facts:

The five points below are central to this piece of free counsel to politicians in Malawi.

It is a fact that:

  1. PP inherited both the incumbent advantage / liability that were both the bastion and the Achilles’ heel of DPP.
  2. UDF, under Hon. Atupele Muluzi, has made a remarkable renaissance.
  3. DPP, having reconciled to the fact that it is now an opposition party, seems no longer at risk of the feared “natural death”; and
  4. MCP, with its enigmatic politics, still has a hell of work to do to get out of its regional cocoon and to remain relevant.

Again it is a fact that the rest of the political parties (apart from these four), are what is in Chichewa termed as ongothandiza mfumu kuledzera.

Disbanding and/or merging with these four would not only make political sense, but would reward the likes of principled Kamuzu Chibambo, well-meaning Mark Katsonga and little-known James Nyondo, with a bigger platform to broaden their scope and influence on the political landscape in Malawi.

These parties can remain in the state they are, this is an option. They could even make the occasional noise if anything, just to remind Malawians that once upon a time they graced the party registrar’s office. But the fact is: their impact is negligible, raison d’etre debatable.

The Basics:

All the political parties – named above and counting, know from experience that elections entail applying resources (mainly human and financial) in a well-thought out strategy, to identify and canvass for selected party candidates to the Malawi electorate with a view to attaining a majority that can see the party in government.

This implies that for those parties yet to conduct conventions, they must tread very, very carefully while those that have already done conventions and are now trying to form winning teams, they must make sure they select parliamentary and local assembly representatives that the public can vote for.

Another obvious fact is the need for a deep purse. A lot of fundraising is imperative and the more ethical this is, the less the problems to be encountered later from unscrupulous funders. And we have this lot in Malawi.

Beware! Sharks on the road to 2014:

Elections are a massive marketing campaign which in Malawi makes the electorate salivate with anticipation.

Wizened by experience, most Malawians are now aware that the more desperate politicians become, the more gullible they turn out; and the higher the chances of making them part with their money.

And so; the vultures are out, to suck the fat from the fattest of the land. The slyer of these vultures will do three things. First they will pick the most generous (and gullible) prey, and secondly spread their bets and risks and thirdly, they will widen their victim-base.

These basic marketing gimmicks will be put to good or rather bad use by various conmen as they teach the unsuspecting aspiring politician a thing or two.

This implies that parties and contestants deemed to be well endowed (financially) will attract the noisiest ‘supporters’. Malawi will see these ‘supporters’ sporting party colours, trumpeting party messages on Facebook and beyond.

Not that these messages will influence anyone at all, but these supporters will be driven by the ‘need to be seen’ by those whose agendas they will be claiming to champion. The rationale is to validate their demands for payment, and nothing else.

The more cunning of this lot will actually have two or more colours at their disposal; orange for the morning, yellow for the afternoon and come dusk, blue. And it follows that this lot will be milking two or more parties, plus the odd independent, simultaneously.

A deviously clever initiative which should, if one has picked the right colours of the rainbow, return handsome dividends. And what’s more, it guarantees that if any one of these wins, the gravy train will continue, even after the election! All this implies a hard time for both party strategists and opportunists.

While the former are busy scheming how to sell their parties, predators are likewise busy designing a whole range of schemes to con the unsuspecting aspiring candidate and parties.

If I know my Malawi well, one Kamlepo Kalua, Shyley’s old Channel Africa buddy, comes to mind. The MDP has finally found a home in PP, at whose expense or gain, we are yet to see!

Coming back to the issue at hand, shrewd voters will generally make every rally count, attending as many rallies as they can if incentives or even mere entertainment is guaranteed.

And candidates will shout themselves hoarse and drive themselves to bankruptcy – deluded that they have a following. The truth will only out in May 2014, but who cares?

Politics is neither for the faint-hearted nor for the poor; which explains why those not born with golden spoons shy away from politics, despite invitations from people like Atupele Muluzi, fortunate to have been spared from some of the unpleasant realities of life.

How do they stand?

I will start with the MCP. Why? Because it could be the least consequential and the least complicated. This Malawi change-averse party has its work cut out. It simply needs to replace aged John Zenas Ungapake Tembo at the helm.

If MCP can replace John Tembo with a bankable candidate, then apply the four cornerstones to support and market that candidate, it could salvage something in 2014.

Surprises and politics are twins, anything can happen and everything is possible.

An easy way out also exists for the MCP: it can retain John Tembo as presidential candidate and save everybody the trouble of digging its grave.

Next, in alphabetical order now, is the DPP. The party I once dubbed the diabolical professors’ party because of its indifference when in power, is reported to have an unlimited war chest. This is a plus. Again, this is a minus because it means it is very attractive for the vultures referred to earlier.

The problem however is that it needs a bumbling PP more than it realizes. The thing is, the DPP (and Malawi) is coming from a background where arrogance was a DPP patented trademark.

The DPP’s ‘arro-governance’ style of 2009-12 was, to put it figuratively, like driving a car in the dark, with a foot hard on the accelerator, and paying very little attention to all road signs.

The end result was that by the time late Mutharika died, it was knee deep in a pothole. And now, why does it need the PP?

It needs PP because as the PP – which by the way inherited half the DPP executive – is now cruising increasingly oblivious of road signs, the battered image of the DPP is slowly looking not too bad.

And political success being about relative performance; PP’s regular reminders of a “DPP-mess” are slowly wearing thin.

If anything, people are increasingly punching huge holes in that line of defence given PP’s surprising capacity to make costly and highly conspicuous blunders. A blunder colourfully painted in orange cannot be hidden easily, especially when the tax-payer has to foot the bill.

Before zooming onto the PP, one word for the DPP: robbing peter a university to give it to paul cannot be erased by a minibus ride to Likuni.

Stunts more original than this are needed, if DPP is to undo the nightmares of yesterday; mitigate the “Darfur factor” (discussed later) and make a foray into the central region.

I will leave this at that and move on to the PP.

As of May 2012, the PP had practically no contender worth the salt. Visualise this: Atupele’s father was on one touchline clapping hands, and veteran JZU Tembo was on the other trying very hard to outdo Atupele’s father; while the forlorn DPP was, like a wounded dog, leaking its wounds.

This was May 2012. Is this still true today? Or did PP, in fact, have no challenger? The answer has transpired. It had a contender, in itself.

Its main weakness was and remains love for symbolism, a penchant for mediocrity and a habit of re-running overplayed records even when nobody is dancing to that record any more.

Maize distribution campaigns, day in and day out rallies, dismissals without due regard to the law whose bill has to be met by the tax payer … the list is endless…. have shown the populace that PP did not have anything, other than showmanship to offer.

This, happening in such a short time, is to say the least, deplorable.

PP has failed to translate revitalized donor good will, whose decline saw Malawi lose the foreign exchange base with which to buttress the fickle growth of 2004 to 2009; into something it can point at during campaign rallies – other than inherited DPP maize and mess.

And so far, the risk of PP turning out to be a living proof of the proverbial adage in the abundance of water the fool is thirsty refuses to completely disappear. And worse, the donors have now started asking questions. This is a worrisome development for a government that wears the “donor-fearing” banner.

Let us however not dwell on this, suffice to say that PP, blessed with some of Malawi’s gluttonous people, has succeeded in wiping out the positives it could have taken to campaign rallies.

But this does not mean PP should be completely written off. Write it off, if you want, at your own peril.

Moving on to the UDF, which has –thank goodness -now detoured from its united deterioration foray, the rise of Joyce Banda brought mixed fortunes.

Firstly, JB’s ascendance reduced the belligerence between the two original warring camps. In fact, for a while, Kaka Chilumpha and Atupele Muluzi were breaking the bread together at the cabinet table; something which was too good to last.

As soon as Kaka turned orange, Atupele was able to vanquish a weakened team of detractors (the Jumbe- Mpasu axis) which he has since out-manoeuvred into forming an inconsequential party of pure desperados called the New Labour Party.

Then, gifted a golden parachute with which to evacuate from the bumbling PP by Khumbo Kachale; Atupele’s UDF is now on rampage, doing and saying the right things so far, and getting some people worried.

Young Atupele, taking advantage of Malawians’ short memory, has successfully repackaged “the change imperative” his father chanted at each and every rally. No-one, somehow, seems to recall that the change, when it came in 1994 was, if anything, not even skin-deep.

But this change message, or “change agenda” if you want to call it that, is working and save for a huge blunder, Atupele could, come 2014 go places. But so could Joyce Banda and so could Peter Mutharika; and this takes us to the crucial issue of the populous south – which in 2014 – will be practically a “Darfur” region.

The “Darfur factor” a.k.a. Southern supremacy:

The Southern region, with respect to the 2014 elections, poses a huge problem for the UDF, PP and the DPP because the ‘Darfur vote’ will be split amongst these three since all these parties draw their strength from the populous southern region.

While getting a majority in ‘Darfur’ almost always guarantees a victory in presidential elections; it is not clear what a Darfur vote split into three will mean.

And this is why MCP is still in contention, subject to finding a solution to Obaba JZU, who is coincidentally banking on the same split ‘Darfur’ vote.

Conclusion:

Ladies and gentlemen, the road to 2014 is a very long and winding road. As of now, the race is very open and anything is possible.

While UDF and PP have already congregated and elected top brass, MCP and DPP have a chance yet to convene.

They can do better by running conventions whose outcomes should be bankable candidates, candidates that people will be itching to vote for. And this, given the politics of personalities inherent in these two parties, will not be easy.

Again, with the southern vote split three ways, DPP, PP and UDF need to seriously court the centre and the north like one would court a woman sought by many suitors.

The way things currently stand, the southern vote will not suffice to determine the presidency and hence, political parties and contenders on the road to 2014 should strategize nationally. Failure to devise a nationwide strategy means driving, head first, into a pothole.

The beauty of it all is that by May 2014, the average villager will have at the minimum, two colours of pieces cloth to alternate. Don’t you just love demo-crazy?

I surely do!

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