The elections next year are very much around the corner and the political fray is currently sexed up with a frenzy of activities. Apart from the tried and tested political parties that we know, we also have seen a proliferation of new political parties (some with strange names), that have started zooming across the width and breadth of the country trying to woo votes. This is normal.
However, like in all political journeys, there are those that are going on a real journey and also those that are merely escorting. It has always been like that since the dawn of multiparty politics in Malawi in 1993. It was like that in 1994; it was like that in 1999; it was like that in 2004; it was like that in 2009 and it was also like that in 2014. Things will not change all of a sudden next year.
At this point it is important to quickly highlight the fact that the real battle of votes next year will be between Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP), or to put it more succinctly, the battle will be between Arthur Peter Mutharika and Lazarus Chakwera. The others, as we have said, will just be escorts or deal makers based on their marginal strengths in their political blocks.
Of the two leaders, it is President Peter Mutharika who has an upper hand over opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera on many fronts in as far as winning next year’s elections is concerned. When Mutharika blazed on the political scene in 2014, he promised not to be just like any other president; he promised to be a unique president who will do things unusual to bring a different perspective to politics.
He came with a single minded focus to initiate a socio-economic development revolution to develop this country and to uplift the socio-economic conditions of Malawians. Four years down the line, there are visible results to show for this promise.
Peter Mutharika has spearheaded an infrastructure development revolution never seen before in this country. The tarred road network has increased tenfold in all the regions. In fact, in four years, Mutharika has constructed and rehabilitated many roads in this country more than all previous presidents combined.
The education system has been revamped, and the community college dream is now a reality. There is almost a community college in every district in this country and the first cohort of over 1000 students has just graduated in various disciplines ready to take on the country as entrepreneurs. The University of Malawi has been unbundled allowing various constituent colleges under it to be autonomous. This will encourage creativity, and will also help the universities to make more money through research and improve their standards.
Under Mutharika, this country has also seen exponential investments in the tourism sector. Five star hotels are currently under construction in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mangochi. The Liwonde-Mangochi road has just been rehabilitated on top of a stadium that has also been constructed in Mangochi. Soon this country will be earning most of its foreign exchange through the tourism sector.
Stadiums have also been constructed in 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 (CSO’s) are able to engage with the president or openly criticize him without any recriminations like it was in the past and the activists are allowed to hold demonstrations freely.
In fact Kamuzu Banda never allowed any Civil Society Organizations during his time. Under Mutharia, the Anti-Corruption-Bureau has also rediscovered its ‘teeth’ and is able to investigate and make high profile arrests without any interference. Of course, there is need for improvement but there has been steady progress.
Politically, it is also perhaps the DPP, of all political parties in Malawi, which has operational structures at area, district and regional level across the country. These structures are very important in political campaigns because the party is able to know the size of its membership which helps in planning and strategy. The People’s Party (PP) can bear testimony to this fact as it learned the hard way the importance of having comprehensive party structures on the ground.
During the 2014 campaign, DPP demonstrated that it can put these structures to good use to mount an effective below-the-line political campaign and snatch government from PP coming from opposition. This time, the party can equally put these structures to good use to defend its territory and strengthen its membership in other areas where it is not particularly well established.
In fact, the DPP has structures even in regions where it is not particularly strong such as the central region. The Malawi Congress Party on the other hand, although it claims to be a big party, is only just sparsely established in the southern region. Party structures at branch and area level are almost non-existent, and it would be foolhardy to think that it can establish these between now and next year.
In terms of experience, Mutharika is also pretty experienced and well versed with the corridors of government having worked in various cabinet portfolios as Cabinet Minister under his brother, Bingu wa Mutharika. He is therefore well disposed to continue putting the machinery of government to good use; to continue implementing various development programs for Malawians.
Chakwera on the other hand is a complete stranger; he has been a church pastor almost all of his adult life and is a novice in the workings of government. In fact documented evidence shows that pastors make terrible political leaders if they take a go at politics, and there is little to show that Chakwera will be any different or an exception to that rule.
Again, Chakwera will most certainly appoint Muhammad Sidik Mia as his running mate next year. Mia is a poisoned chalice (Chakwera does not know this) and appointing him as running mate has more disadvantages than advantages. Contrary to the belief that he is ‘the Lower Shire Giant’ and that he will bring Chakwera southern region votes, Mia is only just popular in his vicinity (something which can also be challenged), and will disappoint Chakwera and MCP in 2019.
Apart from this, Mia’s mere coming to MCP has already proved to be toxic. He has demonstrated that he comes with a baggage that is divisive and if Chakwera is not careful, the party will arrive at the polls next year in tatters (you can watch this space).
Countdown begins as Malawi heads towards watershed polls.
- Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author not Nyasa Times