Seven names, I read, have made it on the final list, released last week by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), as presidential hopefuls.
But, truth be told, the game of thrones on May 21st will principally be about the big four: Atupele Muluzi of United Democratic Front (UDF), Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM’s Saulos Chilima.
So who, among the four, goes to State House?
UDF: Survival, Not Success
UDF goes to the polls next week from a considerably weakened position. Despite a history of being a formidable and defining political force, especially during the 1994 and 1999 elections, the 2004 elections revealed UDF’s Achilles heel. They sneaked to victory with a meagre 36 percent of the national vote, a sharp decline from 52 percent during 1999 elections. Battered by Bingu Wa Mutharika’s betrayal, UDF’s slump went even deeper with the party failing to field a candidate during the 2009 elections.
They returned in 2014, with young Atupele on the lead, only managing about 14 percent of the national vote and even worse concentrating their focus, mostly, on Mangochi, Balaka and Machinga districts. Arguably, this May 21st elections, though with a northerner Frank Mwenefumbo as its second, barely favors UDF. The party’s focus now is not on success—winning the presidency; rather, its survival from extinction through selling itself to incumbents.
UTM: Glitzy Shots in the Dark
UTM goes to May 21st elections with a wild and unjustified hype and optimism of a freshman in college. The freshman dazzles with untested ideas, attracts those frustrated by establishments and those who rejects old order and, then, creates a glitzy and trendy movement that is sweet to the ear, pleasing to the eye—all based on the charm of one ambitious Saulos Chilima.
Unlike him, Joyce Banda had a long history as a politician—an MP, a minister and a renowned community organizer with a story of standing up to a cause of Malawi’s most trusted voters, women. When she started her People’s Party (PP), she knew she had a base partly from Eastern Region and, also, party from the North. At least she had somewhere to start. Coupled with the accidental incumbency, she rode from her base and spread her orange all over. She came third with a 20 percent of the national vote.
Chilima, unlike Joyce Banda, neither has a strong political base nor the advantage of incumbency. He campaigns riding on a gross support of an assumed youthful and middle-class vote—which is indeed critical; but fundamentally flawed as that cannot be quantified and trusted. Riding principally on hope is never a trusted base to run a campaign from, especially, in a societies of traditional voters. Chilima is, basically, shooting in a hopeful dark and, advisedly, his supporters needs to be mindful that they are campaigning from a position of fantasy.
MCP: Now National Party?
Despite fielding a presidential hopeful in all the previous elections since 1993, MCP has an interesting though depressing close-yet-far-away tale of always coming second to whichever party has been winning. The only time the party got a handsome percentage was during the 1999 elections with a cool 45 percent, a sharp rise from 33 in 1994. It appears those were the only glorious days because since then MCP has failed to pull more percentages than that. They fall was sharp during 2004 elections with 28 percent, and rose dismally during 2009 with 30 percent and fell even sharper in the last elections with a mere 27 percent.
There could be a couple of reasons to explain this, but what is fundamental is that, since 1994, MCP has failed to operate as a national party. The party, sadly so, has always been a central region club, always choosing to be on the defensive of what they have than being aggressive to attract more. Even with fresh Lazarus Chakwera rising to the mantle, little changed as, if you look at 2014 elections, the party failed to field parliamentary candidates in Southern Region, the country’s most populous region.
The 2019 elections presents quite a renewed MCP. Riding on the stronger Central Region base and a renewed youth movement led by charismatic Richard Kamwendo, the party, on its own, exhibited a flicker of hope—but not, actually, heading to State House. However, with Khumbo Kachali in the north, Sidik Mia in Shire Valley and Joyce Banda’s over 600 000 voters [especially Eastern and Northern Regions] on her back, MCP is going into this election with realistic national appeal it has never had. You would be too naïve to overlook this and suffer a shock when MEC, any day after May 21st, declares Chakwera, Malawi’s next leader.
DPP: The Incumbency Magic
In this election, the DPP is, fundamentally, banking on the incumbency wand. Their first entry into elections was magic with a historical landslide win of 66 percent of the national vote. When Bingu Wa Mutharika began to change the character that earned him a 2009 landslide, the party began to lose the national appeal and when he died in 2012, DPP was no longer a cosmopolitan institution with a national agenda. It had sunk into a parochial party, captured by tribal interests. Even when it pulled from the bench and take back power from Joyce Banda with a meagre 36 percent [from 66 percent], the writing was clear that the DPP is in sharp decline mode.
In this election, the DPP still banks on footprints of Bingu. Coupled with fragments of APM’s development projects here and there, the party still have a realistic chance of retaining the State House. The biggest challenge they face, unlike MCP, is that the party doesn’t have a Joyce Banda to fill what Chilima has stolen from them. They must have talked with Atupele, but it all gone now.
Who Goes? Its MCP Vs DPP
I do not doubt that the critical battle this Tuesday is between MCP and DPP. Atupele needs time to revamp UDF. Chilima is banking on wonders. MCP and DPP are riding on their traditional votes and what will separate the two is that additional vote. May the best candidate win.
- Ephraim Nyondo is a professional journalist, author and political analysts, He is writing in his personal capacity.