An academic opinion on principles of engagement for a successful alliance sormation

Firstly, this article is not meant to discourage or encourage any political party anywhere to go into, or withdraw from any political formation, alliance, party or grouping, rather, it seeks to contribute to the thought process on political formations in general. The article is academic in nature, and some of the principles are vicarious knowledge from fields of economics and law.  Secondly, the author does not claim that this is the only way of thinking on this issue, but rather considers this as a possible point of debate.

MCP woman Mai Dinala joins PP women dance

Having dealt with the context, it is worth noting that while there are some advances in areas of civil liberties, it is common cause that Malawi continues to grapple with untold poverty characterized by many a person unable to fend for himself, widespread starvation, malnourishment, economic stagnation, depressive interest rates, and lamentable low incomes per person, among others.

Of course there are efforts to resolve these issues by a multiplicity of stakeholders (government, political parties, civil society, private sector and development partners), but a win is not in sight yet. At the heart of this untold socio-economic misfortune are a series of factors that may not be thoroughly dealt with in a single article, but these can be grouped largely into policy factors, political and implementation factors. A country with a splendid collection of policies is unlikely to superbly push back the frontiers of poverty if the political environment is disruptive or unsupportive nor would success chance in the midst of vociferous constraints in respect of implementation capacities.

Thus, it is trite to reconcile to the fact that politics and the manner in which it is organized, the systems of organization across the three branches of government, inter alia are all determinantal to both the short run and long-term socio-economic development of a nation. Those who hold the view that socio-economic development is perpendicular to political organization and governance omit an important element and are likely to prescribe the wrong solutions out of the economic misery in which we are.

This article does not seek to attribute any of the misery Malawi is in to any one person or political institution, but to highlight some elements that may be useful for deciding on political alliance formation. The goal is thus not to benefit any one side (ruling party or opposition parties), but to provide a public opinion that may be used by anyone at will in their drive to forge successful partnerships of a political nature. A discussion on the other factors of economic growth, for example, implementation capacity challenges, and policies, will be tackled in future issues.

In a contentious political environment in which we are, it is still possible for any one of the parties to win alone (if there is no rigging by any other party), by getting a simple highest percentage of the votes than any of the other parties. For example, the DPP and the UDF have been winning without alliances since 1994. The implication is that the winning percentages have mostly been less than 40% with the exception of 2009, which also means we have always been ruled by minority governments since 1994! This is an obiter, albeit a necessary one.

For success, alliance negotiations should be in good faith, they should be driven by morality and should be fact based, and while wishes egos are likely to influence parts of such negotiations, egos must, overall, be irrelevant. Discussions in this pursuit should strive for genuine consensus, and principles of lawfulness cannot be dispensed with.  

Genuine consensus

For a genuine consensus to be achieved, it is important that the goals of the alliance be elaborated in clear terms. The role of every party to the negotiations both now and in the future government need to be clarified as part of the negotiations, while mechanisms for monitoring adherence to the agreed terms as well as sanctions for non-cooperation need to be worked out participatively. In the event of multi-party negotiations, it should be acceptable for any party to enter reservations on any of the clauses that are not material for the alliance, in order to ensure coherence of the alliance. The tenor of these discussions should be such that they are open among partners.

Alliance talks that do not disclose material aspects of what will constitute the future government (power sharing), or talks that gloss over responsibilities in the run-up to the elections are likely to lead to shaky alliances that may fail to achieve the intended goals.

Good faith

Alliance talks should be based on good faith, to the extent that there is not too much that the law can do to regulate them. For instance if any party (ruling or opposition) seeks an alliance with any of the other parties in order for it to be sure of an easy win, its discussions with partners must be in good faith. There is no good faith if one party for example engages in a discussion simply to delay the other rather than to seek a genuine partnership. Equally, there is no good faith where blackmail characterises the talks. If elements of bad faith are detected, it is unlikely a strong alliance would emerge.

Fact Based/objectivity

Alliances seek to win elections (I hope) and must hence use facts to organize. There is no point in organizing an alliance that faces too high (close to 1) a probability of a loss. For example, an alliance that, by all measure will account for 10% of the total vote is likely futile even in a first past-the-post system as we have in Malawi. Such an alliance should only be cobbled if the goal is not a presidential win per se.

 On this point, a discussion lacks a factual basis and is driven by empty ego if a party known to historically hold a small share of votes than another, and has not done anything to change the status quo, insists on leading the future alliance over a member who is comparatively larger. Historical and contemporaneous facts must be availed to support any party’s claims in those discussion rooms.

Based on boni-mores of society and lawfulness

A partnership discussion is immoral if it hinges on blackmail and manufactured figures. It is also illegal if it seeks to employ unlawful means to achieve its goals. Unlawfulness does not include a case where parties agree that they will reorganize government upon a win, in such a way that new layers of government will be introduced. For instance, it is not wrong for parties to negotiations to explore possibilities of changing a constitution to allow for a Prime Minister post in order to benefit their alliance. What we need is a stable government and if one party can end up having a President and Vice President, and the other party ends up controlling prime minister post etc as the agreement may dictate, it would not be illegal, so long such future changes are procedural.

Performance possibility and certainty

In alliance negotiations it is important to ensure parties do not set up each other for failure. If the assumption for allowing in a party in an alliance is that it would play some role which in practice is impossible, the alliance is dynamically shaky. Similarly, alliance talks that don’t pin down the procedural and substantive elements of the alliance formation, are shaky and can betray the formation of a workable alliance as suspicion may creep in.

Prescribed formalities

Although this may look trivial, if alliance partners have prescribed the manner/formalities for accepting membership (eg signatures, ratification, accession etc) and these are not properly followed by some members, other members may view that as a sign that the future alliance will be problematic. It is thus useful if applicable, to follow prescribed formalities.

Two Warnings:

  1. It is also this time of potential alliances formations when too much propaganda from within party fault lines, outside parties etc emerges to help shape alliances in favour of interest groups. Resilient leaders will not lose good judgement, objectivity and integrity in this pursuit but will remain true to purpose and will pursue excellence as a virtue with honour and triumph. Do not succumb to blackmail, fake populism, and hearsay. Make decisions based on factual information, not emotions, nor duress, seduction, fraud, or blackmail.


  1. It is often the case that when an election nears those around and far from leaders start jostling significantly for positions in anticipation of the future win. Inevitably gate-keeping flourishes. Gate-keeping if done by those with bona fide intentions and with the necessary intellectual rigour to drive an agenda may be useful, but where gate-keepers are limited in intellect, it can be fatal to triumph. Successful alliances can fail to form and unsuccessful ones may emerge leading to inevitable failure. Thus, success in these gate-keeping cases will ensue if the leaders are able to emerge above the traps created by those who surround them and think with a multiplicity of perspectives.

Finally I must say that regardless of which formation will triumph (whether ruling party and opposition party or opposition parties together or whether no alliances will form), it is important that we have peaceful elections. There is potential strength in alliances both for the ruling party and the opposition parties, as much as it is also possible to win without an alliance. Wishing all of the parties the best of luck, as we get closer to that time when parties present nomination papers to the Malawi Electoral Commission.

  • Disclaimer: The views herein are those of the author and have nothing to do with any other person, or third party with whom the author may have contacts with in one way or another. The intended purpose is to feed the public with intellectual thought indiscriminately.
  • Leave ny feedback here or send to: [email protected]


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Tiyeseni Phiri
Tiyeseni Phiri
3 years ago

Our political system does not lend itself into the formation of meaningful political alliance, especially before a general election. It is ok to form alliances after the general election in order to strengthen parliamentary majority for the effective functioning of government or the opposition. If political alliances are formed for the sake of winning an election, we are far from realizing what brings about economic transformation in the lives of the people. Political alliances will not bring about economic results. It is good and sound economic leadership that matters irrespective of the number of votes one takes into govt. Good… Read more »

Malaki njoka
Malaki njoka
3 years ago
Reply to  Tiyeseni Phiri

Your approach can effectively ensure no opppsition ever wins. Best time for kukhala limodzi ndi before elections

3 years ago


Graceana chipembere
Graceana chipembere
3 years ago

A paragon of excellence… true that . Wish they are listening

Audrey Mainala
Audrey Mainala
3 years ago

kulemba kwa makina a mphepo. Good stuff and i cant agree more!

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