Charles Simango’s Thinking Aloud: Malawi’s most sophisticated party

Regardless of what people may say, I still think that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is the most sophisticated party in Malawi today. In my view, the DPP is a strategic-based party with everything they do being a factor of a well, thought-out approach. Their strategies are sleek, even ruthless at times.

I am not saying that the other parties do not use strategies. All I am saying is that the DPP is primarily strategy-centred. Look at their 2009 campaign for example. The DPP saw that the MCP/UDF ticket was a threat to their continued reign and so they deployed a two-prong approach, with one arm touting the ‘chimanga, misewu paliponse’ (maize and roads everywhere) message while the other arm ruthlessly pounded on their opponent, demonising MCP’s President and torch bearer, John Tembo, as having blood on his hands. They even used JZU’s partner, former President Bakili Muluzi, as witness number one, beaming him on television and big screens everywhere, accusing Tembo of having blood on his hands in statements he had made some years ago.

The strategy was simply to scare the electorate by showing them why MCP was a bad choice while at the same time giving reasons and evidence as to why they should stay with the DPP instead.

On top of having a simple but loaded message, the DPP’s 2009 campaign was also a marvel to watch. Crowds of people stormed the country’s roadside to see Bingu wa Mutharika riding solo in a huge campaign bus. There were blue t-shirts and zitenje everywhere, blue bicycles in every village and as a befitting finale, the last day of the campaign saw crowds of people fighting over DPP branded sweets at road side markets, all over the country. That campaign was just one big show- stopper. And for the other parties, it was overwhelming, it was a nightmare.

In contrast, this time around, DPP was just a shadow of itself during the 2014 campaign. It could be that the party no longer had the benefit that comes with incumbency or being a ruling party. The crowds were big, alright, but the flare, the fun fare that was DPPs 2009 campaign was just not there. Even the campaign song ‘Mwayamba Kale Kunjenjemera’ could not take off despite being the best campaign song of the year, in my view. The song came late on the market and there was no promotion worth mentioning apart from hearing it on some selected radio stations. I cannot even recall seeing DPP t- shirts for the 2014 campaign apart from chimanga (maize) t-shirts and other materials that seemed to be left overs from the previous campaign.

Scottish swagga for DPP front ine troops; Bright Malopa and  Nicholous Dausi at DPP convention
Scottish swagga for DPP front ine troops; Bright Malopa and Nicholous Dausi at DPP convention

The MCP on the other hand put up one of their best campaigns since 1994 despite having very little resources. In Lilongwe, most cars displayed MCP paraphernalia with fewer vehicles displaying other parties’ materials. I did not go to the South or North during the campaign but I bet the other parties were equally more visible in their strongholds too. The difference, though, is that in 2009 it was DPP colours in every car be it in Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Blantyre of Mangochi.

As far as 2014 goes, the award for most visible campaign goes to Atupele Muluzi. His campaign may have been nowhere near what DPP did in 2009 but he beat them this time around. He was first off the blocks following the conclusion of the nomination process, launching his campaign in Blantyre, Mangochi, Lilongwe and Mzuzu, well ahead of the other parties. By the time the other parties came, most parts of the country were already painted yellow. Wherever Atupele went, one could feel it. His last show was in Lilongwe and it was difficult to ignore yellow in Mchesi, Kawale, Chilinde, Area 23 or Area 24 where he held his last campaign. It was was yellow ‘ung’ono ung’ono’ (his popular campaing mantra for ‘young ones’) everywhere. But may be that was his problem – most of the ‘ung’ono ungono’ that I saw on that day seemed to be under age I doubt they even registered to vote.

Joyce Banda did try to put up a good show, but her campaign only managed to paint the country orange in the wee days of the campaign. I hope to publish a very honest article in relation to Joyce Banda soon but suffice to say, even she was beaten by Atupele despite being on the road everyday.

But while the DPP was just a shadow of itself this time around, I think they have remained as strategic as ever. When it became apparent that there was a possibility of recounting the votes, the DPP quickly regrouped and rolled out a campaign of resistance using multiple fronts.

On the legal front they engaged some of the country’s legal minds to stall and even stop the process by any legal means necessary. The legal tactic also included institution of multiple court actions using proxies like you-know-who to clog the courts and in so doing sandbag the electoral commission. Now their legal team has even moved out of court and engaged the media to sway public opinion.

Typical of good marketing tactics, on the media front, they made sure they pushed a single message and everyone involved stayed on message: ‘no re-counting of votes because the safety of the votes cannot be guaranteed’. It was the same message one heard on Mutharika’s Galaxy radio, same message from Secretary General Dr. Kalilani, same from party spokesperson Nicolas Dausi, same, same, same…until the public bought into it.

And just to make sure the public fully bought into their message, the party ensured that they prayed for the evidence to show up so everyone could see for themselves. And so it happened that soon after they made their stand public, evidence started popping up from nowhere with truckloads of unsecured ballot boxes popping up across the country – all within 48 hours of their declaring that ballot boxes were not secure. Mind you, no single ballot box popped up before that proclamation.

And as luck would have it, wherever the boxes appeared, DPP officials just happened to be in the vicinity with Dausi being the luckiest. These lucky party official also happened to have camera phones in their pockets whenever lady luck showed up. And now that the courts have said they will rule on the matter this Friday, the boxes have stopped appearing – pending ruling.
You just have to have to give it to these guys.

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