Malawi’s road to 2014 general elections: My vision

Malawi’s 2014 ‘tripartite’ general election mood is building up, with parties preparing for their conventions here and there, flexing political muscles here and there and face-lifting their parties with head-start projections on popularity and member’s population. All these things are good, but Malawians will be the better judges at the ballot box. Making an analysis of the political road to 2014, there are some intricacies that a naked eye does not seem to decipher at this moment, but which can be crucial to winning and losing an election. The case of analysis is made taking into account parties, leadership, financial muscle, geopolitics and the context of time.

PP is it a Winning Party come 2014?

With People’s Party currently in government by default, one gets a sense that they are already a government come 2014. By precedent, they have any right to feel this way if the history of ruling parties in Malawi since Kamuzu’s Malawi Congess Party is anything to go by. And yet, the immediate past results in the Zambia’s general election where Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) candidate and incumbent Rupiah Bwenzani Banda (RBB) lost to opposition, offers an example of how a ruling party can be humbled by electorates.

In Zambia one would have expected RBB to ride on the successes of late Levi Mwanawasa and easily win back the confidence of Zambians. In the case of PP’s Joyce Banda (JB), one would expect incumbency, popularity, financial factor, gender factor, personal qualities, and sympathy from a previous persecutory political environment on her person and geopolitical factors (South-South East) and population factors, to favour her party.

However while the scenario above seems to be an all goner, I have followed with interest the behaviour of Malawians and how quickly they are becoming ‘jacked up’ politically as to provide a shocker to self-aggrandizing political personalities and their political projects. Let me state it this way: in politics, a year is long-enough for political fortunes to change from a hero to a zero and vice-versa, one must always be attuned to the mood of the electorate.

Peter Mutharika: Don't write him off

Examples abound in Bingu’s fall out of favour just months after 2009 popular general elections, and in Chakufwa Chihana’s 2004 end of romance with his base after his (in) famous ‘imwi banthu bakumpoto, ini ndingaba presidenti yaye, ndini wabefu, kweni uyu Bingo’ – during the selling of the Bingu project for presidency by the then ruling UDF, and Bakili Muluzi as the self-proclaimed political engineer. Like Bingu, Chakufwa Chihana got the rude awakening from an angry constituent that refused to have him see himself as The Total Man.

Now, since Bingu wa Mutharika’s demise, I shudder to hear how casually people write off Democratic People’s Party and other opposition parties’ chances at the 2014 polls. I see a 2014 campaign of the hearts and minds, as opposed to issue based; so that if PP’s over-enthusiasm is not curbed, they may be in for a rude awakening come 2014. Already PP’s handling of Section 65 at the time when they benefited from the same constitution to get the presidency has become a major dent on their commitment to uphold the constitution and the rule of law. A further example is the feeling that the more some things change, the more they remain the same. The now you see it and now you don’t hide and seek game on tripartite elections is one such example. The defection to PP of the same old faces with a record of defective and destructive mentality does not inspire confidence at all. It offers a sense of recycling – which unlike in green campaign movements, in political leadership it is better categorized under redundancy. These defections are what give politics a bad name to mean simply the change of colours as opposed to change of ideas. PP must be warned to write off DPP in particular and the opposition in general as it recycles failed politicians who may indeed have advised Mutharika wrongly; indeed, DPP shall be justified to announce to the whole world that care that the confusionists have all trekked out of the party.

Ignore DPP and Opposition at Your Own Peril

I get a sense that PP would have had an easy ride to win a general election if Bingu were to die say three or five months to general elections because: Malawians would have used the sympathy vote for the victimization JB went through during Bingu’s regime to rally behind her; Malawians would have been left with very little time to learn the weaknesses of JB and PP and the euphoria of ‘change’ would have done the magic. But because of collective amnesia that we see so much in human behaviour, coupled with the pandemic blunders that ruling parties make as they fail to learn from blunders of previous ruling parties – PP must indeed be warned. From what we have witnessed so far, the behaviour of Malawians towards politics and politicians can be described as both erratic and volatile by our own standards. For this reason, the remainder of the Mutharika’s term may deceivingly be perceived as short by PP standards but only to turn out longer by Malawian standards.

A lot can go wrong in PP between now and 2014 if they choose to do business as usual and bury their heads with their ears in the sand. Listening to PP stalwarts talk against DPP and opposition, most of them former DPP hand-clappers, you quickly sense a feeling of déjà vu, sycophancy that seem to describe the political soul of this country. You ask: do our people in political offices really have personal principles that they can firmly claim to believe in; or do they have stomach principles only? While PP can bank on appeal to the electorate’s emotions based on the perceived ills of Bingu wa Mutharika and JB’s victimization, DPP may actually have a ‘Joker’ status in this aspect towards 2014, greater than PP may imagine. There are at least three factors to be cracked here: the Peter Mutharika effect; the Lhomwe belt effect and the Mutharika geographical shrine effect.

The choice of Peter as Bingu’s kid brother to be a DPP flag bearer cannot be any better from a psychological warfare point of view. Peter may seemingly be different without Bingu, who would have incensed Malawians even more if he were to be alive to market the detested Peter for presidency project. With Bingu gone, and Peter coming from the position of weakness in opposition, the emotions around his candidacy will likely take a new twist. Further, the mere fact that Peter comes from a political region of presidential incumbency, flooded with other potential presidential aspirants in Atupele Muluzi, Friday Jumbe and Gwandanguluwe Chakuamba, makes the candidature in the south interesting. Definitely PP knows that political offices in this country are won on the mixture of personality, ethnicity and campaign financial muscle; while Peter may not have the former, but the remainder of the attributes may have a greater appeal to a section of Peter’s potential voters come 2014.

An example in question is our brothers and sisters from the Lhomwe Belt, or henceforth the Mulhakho factor. With the patron of Mulhakho gone,  it is likely that Peter, even if not formally appointed, will become the fantasized de facto patron of the outfit; and with some bigwigs from the belt being perceived as victimized in both government and private sector, they are likely to find Bingu’s kid brother a rallying point to wrestle back power. Others already found the failure to chop Ken Lipenga’s head in the MRA’s scandal as a move to balance the scale of the Lhomwe belt and secure some votes with him as a rallying point.

Another factor to consider in Peter’s road to 2014 versus the PP is Bingu’s burial at Ndata, and not Lilongwe the national seat. Whereas Lilongwe would have made Bingu’s burial a neutral ground, in the immediate term the burial grounds at Ndata’s private land raises it to a shrine status for the kin and kith, and therefore likely to become the heart and soul of DPP’s 2014 campaign.

Bingu’s commemoration events of April, 2013 and April, 2014, just before the general elections, may become major rallying points for galvanizing the DPP potential constituency and voters elevating the Ndata grounds to the DPP Mecca.

Centre and North, Lying Political Giants?

Gigantism is not always in numbers; we learn this very well in such folk stories as Kalulu the Hare and the elephant, and David and Goliath in the Good Book. Some giants are giants in the game of spoilers and history is awash with such. One example that quickly comes to mind is that of Brown-Cameroon race in Britain, where a little known party became the decider of the country’s political fate. This situation best describes the seemingly slumbering Centre and South – which are currently like blank slates that book-makers must choose to ignore cautiously.

Both DPP and PP may only be dreaming of bankable support in a political environment that will become volatile. In short, 2014 may actually be close to call when that moment arrives and as new players begin to emerge and the play-ground becomes over-crowded.

Ndumanene Devlin Silungwe (Psychologist)

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