Electoral alliances or Coalition pacts in Malawi politics: To whose benefit are they?

It is an established constitutional obligation that Malawians will be heading to the polling stations for general elections in May 2014, to elect the President, Members of Parliament or Councilors of their choice. Indeed the next few months will be exciting times on the political calendar of Malawi, with politics taking twists and turns, as has been evidenced recently with movements of politicians from one political grouping to another. Although this has been a common occurrence in Malawi party politics, it is also a time when electoral alliances or coalitions form part of the political landscape developments.

In Malawi, few examples of these electoral alliances or coalition agreements include the 1994 United Democratic Front (UDF) electoral alliance with some parties such as the United Front for Multiparty Democracy (UFMD) among others. In 1999, there was the alliance partnership between the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) led by Gwanda Chakuamba and Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) led by Chakufwa Chihana. In 2004, we also witnessed an electoral coalition of opposition political parties under the umbrella of M’gwirizano Coalition which was led by Gwanda Chakuamba as its Presidential candidate. The most recent one being the less fancied and last minute agreement by the UDF under the Chairmanship of Bakili Muluzi to support the MCP’s Presidential Candidacy of John Tembo in 2009 elections.

Du Mhango
Du Mhango

A high level analysis of these alliances or coalition agreements in Malawi will reveal some common elements, which are:

  1. Most of these electoral alliance had a short-term focus; unstable and hurried arrangements to meet electoral ambition goals of its leaders;
  2. The Memorandum of Understandings (MUOs) prepared had no clear basis to take policy views and integrate it as an electoral pact for voters to be informed of what these alliances or coalition stance on policy matters was;
  3. In the process to the electoral alliance or coalition formations usually it was the top-down approach, mainly serving the interest of the leaders than the grassroots party supporters, whom in most cases as above,  were never consulted nor provided the political parties with any mandate to form an alliance through a special convention;
  4. The clear focus and issues that dominated to some extent causing conflict within political parties being Presidential Candidate and Running-mate issues, with a clear example being the John Tembo vs Chakufwa Chihana running-mate issues in the 1999 MCP/AFORD alliance, and the Presidential Candidate issue in the M’gwirizano Coalition of opposition parties in 2004, which then led to MCP going it alone, led by John Tembo.

One thing that can be stated, based on historical facts on Malawi alliances or coalitions is that, it seems no conflicts existed with regard to issues of policy. The question that then comes to mind is: Is this because most of the leaders in Malawi political parties care less of what they intend to do when in power when it comes to uplifting the country and its people? Or Is it because there is no intensive debate to formulate and integrate various policies of individual parties into one manifesto?

It is also somehow common to note that most of these parties go it alone to field own candidates for Members of Parliament, which raises the question of whether real unity exists in these alliances or coalition arrangements.

As an independent observer, it would be clear, unless corrected, that hunger for power at all costs dominates the thinking of leadership of political parties as a motivation for electoral alliances or coalitions in Malawi rather than policy matters. Although others may have other views on this issue, motivation of an electoral alliance should also be based on trying to reach a balance on ideologies, as well as to balance differing policy views of political parties through an alliance agreement. For instance, a typical example would be how a party like the MCP can drive its agenda for universal fertilizer subsidy within the alliance agreement as something they would like to be implemented in the event of an alliance victory at the polls, while for instance a party like AFORD would push for decentralization of power to ensure that local councilors have more say on matters of local development and budget planning processes in the rural areas, as adopted policy positions within the agreements.

The above would make more sense in an alliance or coalition agreements than what Malawi historical political agreements have provided for, which is an individualistic approach with the sole purpose of winning the office of President of Malawi.

I sincerely do not regard myself as a political engineering  as  others have described themselves within certain leadership circles, however, it is high time that leadership at different political parties take our electoral process seriously and raise the bar of leadership quality to ensure that as voters on the ground, we are not there to be fed dummies. Twenty years of democracy, despite described as young as compared to other democracies, can still provide a space to prove that we are now better thinkers.

As Malawians, we have seen enough of these alliances or coalitions that have not offered real meaningful optimistic dreams of where the country can be heading to in future. Although the common approach of politics is being a game of numbers, for a change, let Malawi elections in May 2014 provide true sense of meaning as to why we vote.

Elections should not just focus on a change of leadership but rather real change that can bring improvements to peoples’ lives in both the urban and rural areas of Malawi. The electoral process is there to provide for an alternative leadership, if need be, that can offer renewed hope and a change in the way Government functions on a daily basis.

It is, therefore, imperative that any suggestions for an electoral alliance or coalitions in Malawi are done in good faith for its citizens to ensure that the objectives are not only narrow minded but rather broad to drive an implementation of an economic development agenda.

As citizens of Malawi, surely, our country deserves better. We need that moral renewal of how Government is ran and not just about a change of individuals occupying the high office in the land through narrow minded alliances or coalitions agreements.


Chifipa Du Mhango

*Writer is a Chief Economist of a multinational organization based in South Africa

* Views expressed are those of the author

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