As the nation treads towards the May 21 tripartite elections, the mood is extremely electric. Politicians are criss-crossing the country to canvass for votes.
As it is often the case with campaign seasons in Malawi, various players, some with poisonous interests, join the fray to try and define the political narrative with the aim of achieving their objectives such as putting people they like in power.
As the political temperatures rise steadily, it is almost clear that it will be a four-party and four-horse presidential race on May 21.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP), in opposition since 1994, faces an uphill battle to topple the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is likely to ride on its notable social and economic development achievements over the last five years, such as new roads and improvement of the roads infrastructure and high-performing and stable economy, to win the forthcoming polls.
President Peter Mutharika, presidential candidate for DPP, seems likely to retain the ‘throne’ due to a number of factors, including his emphasis on developing this country to unimaginable levels and thereby elevating Malawi to a middle-class economy.
However, APM, as he is fondly called by the DPP faithful, faces competition from MCP’s candidate, Reverend Dr. Lazarus Chakwera. Chakwera is campaigning on a ‘Hi 5’ platform where he is agitating for “servant leadership, prospering together, ending corruption, rule of law and national unity”.
While Chakwera’s Hi 5 vibe seems to resonate well with some of the voters, it may not be enough to propel Chakwera and MCP into the corridors of power come May 21 because of the MCP’s ‘dark’ past. Most elderly Malawians seem not to have forgotten the various horrific atrocities that the MCP regime committed against many Malawians during its 30-year rule.
As one analyst recently observed, MCP also fails to inspire new generations of voters at each and every general election because of their inability to intelligently stick to a fair acceptance of their own history.
He wrote: “There have been many times when MCP has made public apologies to Malawians for their atrocious past and very notorious disregard to human rights. But all those apologies and ‘crocodile tears’ have been backfiring because in practice, the party has not yet figured out how to walk their talk.”
Another ‘hot’ presidential contender is UTM’s Saulos Klaus Chilima. He is the serving State Vice President who fell out of grace with his boss and formed his own political party to challenge Mutharika and DPP.
While Chilima and his UTM have achieved some tremendous strides in establishing their own political mark, the window of opportunity of winning the next elections is very small because time has not been their best friend.
UTM does not have grassroots structures to bank on for voter mobilization due to time and resource constraints. This was clearly evident during the party’s primary elections, which turned out to be arguably the worst and most chaotic than any other primaries in this multiparty dispensation.
The significance of the contribution of strong grassroots party structures cannot be overemphasized as far as winning national elections are concerned.
Chilima, the individual, faces fierce public mistrust for his sudden attacks against a government that he ‘quietly’ served for four years.
Some Malawians question his integrity and honesty when he criticizes the DPP and its leadership of corruption and abuse of power when he continues to enjoy lucrative government privileges, including a monthly salary and state security. They argue that if he was genuine in his criticism of alleged corruption in government, he could have resigned his position as State VP but as things are, Malawians cannot trust him with the top most position of Head of State.
In this scenario, DPP and APM become the likely winners in the next two weeks. The DPP is reputed to have won all national elections it has participated in since its inception in 2005. Actually, in 2009, the party and its presidential candidate, won with a landslide, winning parliamentary seats in some traditional MCP stronghold central region districts.
In 2012, the DPP was visited by the misfortune of the sudden death in office of President Bingu wa Mutharika. DPP automatically became an opposition party because the then Vice President Joyce Banda, who had formed her own People’s Party (PP) due to earlier fallout with the DPP, became President as required by the constitution.
But Banda and PP’s stay in government was very short. DPP went on to reclaim government following the 2014 tripartite elections and APM became the new Head of State.
Since 2014, APM has demonstrated a detailed understanding of the social and economic challenges that Malawians, especially the rural poor, face. He has so far pursued and implemented pro-poor social and economic policies that have tremendously improved the people’s socio-economic status.
APM and the DPP have brought the economy back from the brink of collapse in 2014 following the Cashgate scandal that occurred during the Joyce Banda administration.
Inflation is at single digit while foreign exchange is in abundance; bank lending rates have been substantially reduced; and the price of fuel has remained static for unprecedentedly long time.
Under APM and DPP, massive improvements are being implemented in the power sector to boost the manufacturing sector as well as boost small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
The education system has been revamped, and the community college dream is now a reality. There is almost a community technical college in every district in this country and APM is promising a community technical college in each constituency in order to mould the youths into skilled and productive citizens.
Under APM, there have been massive investments in the tourism sector. Five-star hotels have been constructed in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mangochi and the Liwonde-Mangochi road has just been rehabilitated to boost tourism, helping the country earn the much-needed foreign exchange through the tourism sector.
Stadiums have also been constructed in Mangochi, Mulanje, Kasungu and Karonga, among others while other districts now boast state-of-the-art markets and bus terminals.
Democratic institutions have also flourished under Mutharika and are working smoothly without interference. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are able to criticize APM without any recriminations like it was in the past under other governments.
With the foregoing, it is likely that most voters will cast their vote in favour of ‘development’ and not ‘politics’.
- The author is a Lilongwe-based social scientist