News analysis: Which way Rumphi Central?

On Tuesday September 6, 2011 Rumphi Central Constituents will go to the polls to elect a parliamentarian. The constituency has no member of parliament following the demise of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Parliamentarian, Professor Moses Chirambo last year. Four candidates are vying for the seat.

In alphabetical order, they are:

·        Enock Chihana of the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD),

·        Peter Chihana of the People’s Development Movement (PDM),

·        MacDowell Stevenson Aaron Chidumba Mkandawire of the Peoples Party (PP), and

·        Norman Malondanimaso Nyirenda of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Rumphi Central Constituency, until the 2009 General Elections, used to “belong” to AFORD. The late Frank Mayinga Mkandawire held the seat from 1994 and lost it 1999 to the late Tom Chakufwa Chihana, after ditching AFORD for the then ruling United Democratic Front (UDF).

Late Chakufwa Chihana: He was the kingpin of Rumphi central

The late Chakufwa, after surviving a scare in the 2004 Elections when he won the seat by a mere 7084 votes against Mrs Queen Gondwes’s 5080, held on to the seat until his death in June 2006. In 2009 Prof. Moses C. Chirambo (DPP) trounced Chakufwa Enock Chihana (AFORD), Staphel Moyo (MCP) and this same Norman Nyirenda, then standing on a National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) ticket, to make it to parliament.

In the run up to 2009 General Elections and soon thereafter everywhere in Malawi, DPP was household name. And this, in part, influenced Nyirenda’s move to DPP. As he said when announcing his defection to DPP:

“In every game, there are parameters, and numbers is that parameter in the game of politics. And in my case DPP has numbers to govern, that is why I have decided to join them.”

Individuals aside, taking a closer look at the contestants’ parties tells another story. AFORD was there first, and lost to the DPP. The PDM and the PP on the other hand are new kids on the block – and this by-election will be their “baptism” at the polls. Of course, both the PDM and the PP are led and composed of people who have been on the Malawi political scene for a while and they should, at least in theory, know which ropes to pull.

The billion dollar question is: who will, this time around, take Rumphi Central Constituency? It is a tough call to make and attempting to outguess the constituents will be an exercise in futility at this point in time. But nevertheless a few things are evident.

Victory for Nyirenda of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will mean that the new DPP Secretary General, Wakuda Kamanga, is right. The political unrest that Malawi is going through is limited to the urban areas and the DPP is still popular where it matters – at grassroots level.

A loss, on the other hand, will mean that those that have been saying that the DPP is “a sinking titanic” have hit the nail on the head or as we say in Chichewa: “alasa tchende lanyani.”

Triumph for Chidumba Mkandawire of the Peoples Party (PP), could be an omen for good things to come for the PP. Failure will, likewise, be a bad omen. It could mean that Vice President Joyce Banda, Khumbo Kachale and company, have a lot of work to do, otherwise all their recent endeavours will have been in vain or that the orange movement will waste its energies if it continues investing in trying to woo the north.

For Enock Chihana representing the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), there is personal pride involved. He is the son of the legendary Tom Chakufwa Chihana, the man who dared to confront the lion of Malawi Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda and lived to tell the story.

But unfortunately, somehow, the odds may be stacked against Enock. Being somebody’s son or relative seems to rile some people who want none of dynastic politics in Malawi. But regardless of this, Enock, a veteran and versatile politician in his own right, is capable of pulling a surprise.

If Peter Chihana of the People’s Development Movement (PDM) makes it to parliament, it will mean that once again, the north is a no-go zone for UDF, MCP, and even PP. PDM has made no bones about being a regional force designed to reclaim the position and status AFORD enjoyed, before it teetered away from national politics due to “ichi chakoma, ichi chakoma” style of politics.  A strong PDM could indeed help balance and check the skewed political landscape in Malawi.

Again, a PDM victory, could mean that the other major parties: UDF, MCP, DPP and PP; have to find own regions where they could try to curve out niches, no-go zones and strongholds. To say the least, this would be very interesting. Especially in the southern region where UDF, DPP and PP would suddenly discover that they have a very little cake to scramble for. And hopefully, that would teach everybody that those in power should see to it that national wealth and resources are distributed and shared equitably; or else come election time it will be “aliyense kwaokwao!”

Whichever way the election in Rumphi Central Constituency goes, it really does not matter. In actual fact, it will be inconsequential because in the house of parliament DPP already enjoys a massive majority. What is important however is the fact that the results of this by-election, a by-election being conducted at a time when Malawi has reached a political leadership déjà vu, will be a harbinger of things to come.

May the best man win and may all the losing political parties and contestants take the result of this pivotal by-election as a wakeup call!

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