Potholes on Road to 2014: Playing the numbers game

DPP claims it is still popular

Intro:

With about thirty months to the 2014 General Elections, pundits are supposed to be crafting and fine-tuning strategies for their political parties. Political parties on their part are supposed to be positioning themselves to launch campaigns accordingly.

But what is happening on the ground?

  • the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), despite the writing on the wall, claims it is still a very popular party and is doing very little to improve its battered image;
  • the People’s Party (PP) says it now has 2.2 million registered members but is yet to start outlining what it will do differently;
  • for the United Democratic Front (UDF), what is remaining is to formally register as a drama group;
  • the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is hot on the heels of the UDF, while
  • AFORD is talking renaissance.

To envision 2014, results or rather the numbers of the 2009 General Elections shed some light as to the possible outcomes, ceteris paribus.

2009 results: national perspective:

There were several presidential contenders but only two, DPP’s President Bingu wa Mutharika and MCP’s John Z Tembo, are worth talking about.

This is not to denigrate the ambitions of the other five, who collectively amassed 148,693 (3.3% of the national valid votes), but rather to provoke them to rethink their future candidacy.

The point is: when total votes of five candidates are a mere ten per cent of the votes of the runner up, who also happens to be very far behind the winner, it suggests several things – things that we will talk about another day.

Out of the 4,464,840 Votes counted as valid, President Bingu wa Mutharika pulled a total of 2,946,103 Votes (66.0%) against John Tembo’s 1,370,044 Votes (30.7%).

Before moving on, it should be stated that the UDF, after failing to have Bakili Muluzi contest, threw its weight behind the MCP candidate. This had several implications on the outcome, some of which have been alluded to below.

2009 results: regional perspective:

In the north, where a total of 686,188 Votes were counted as valid, Bingu wa Mutharika got 650,791 Votes (94.8%) against John Tembo’s 20,829 Votes (3.0%)

In the centre, from a total of 1,781,161 Votes, again Mutharika reigned supreme with 937,163 Votes (52.6%) against John Tembo’s 780,522 Votes (43.8%).

In the south, where a total of 1,997,491 Votes were counted valid Bingu wa Mutharika got 1,358,149 Votes (68.0%) against John Tembo’s 568,693 Votes (28.5%).

John Tembo’s 568,693 votes from the southern region, a record as far as he is concerned vis-à-vis his previous performance in this region, were a result of the MCP/UDF alliance.

Assumptions:

Before we delve into the future, which is always full of surprises, it would be prudent to define general assumptions. This discussion proceeds on the following assumptions:

  • that PETRA; NARC, RP, AFORD, NARC, NASAF and the other brief case parties will for once, be frank, and will not ‘bring knives to a gun fight’ so to speak.
  • that AFORD, currently engaged in a rebuilding exercise, will come out as a major force again.
  • that UDF and MCP will, somehow, sort out their mess and be capable of fielding at most a single candidate.
  • that new parties, if any, will have little impact on the political landscape.

And for simplicity sake, we will stick to the 2009 numbers, rounding them off as necessary.

The Southern Region – 2,000,000 votes to scramble for:

In 2014, the southern vote will for obvious reasons be split mainly amongst DPP, PP and UDF.

Mangochi, Machinga and, may be, Balaka will most probably vote for UDF. In Mulanje, Phalombe, and Thyolo districts it will be an uphill task to dislodge the DPP and so; one can for the time being, award these districts to DPP.

Zomba, if past experience in Malawi (major presidential candidates unfailingly secure a majority in their home districts) is anything to go by, could potentially go to PP, but this remains to be seen because it is equally true that a prophet has no honour in his home.

This will leave Blantyre, Chikwawa, Chiradzulu, Mwanza, Neno and Nsanje districts as the deciders.  With the exception of Blantyre district, DPP scooped 100% of the parliamentary seats in all these districts. And, even where the DPP candidate did not win, whosoever won quickly joined the DPP bandwagon.

It could therefore be argued that DPP has an edge in these “deciding” districts, IF it can hold on to its 2009 voters.

But having said that, the bottom line is that: while in 2009 the two million votes were split two ways, in 2014 they will go three ways. Needless to say, it will be interesting how many each party will secure.

The Central Region – 1,800,000 votes: which way?

The DPP’s performance in 2009 in this region stunned sleeping MCP in the context of the region’s loyalty in previous general elections and the multiparty referendum.

In politics one has to learn to expect the unexpected, and the MCP needs to do some real soul searching because unless it reorganizes itself pretty fast, it can bet on one thing. And this is it: in 2014 it will not only be DPP, but also PP and UDF making inroads, and this could effectively bury MCP.

Again, Dedza and Lilongwe are the districts where MCP got the most of its votes. If, while it is sorting itself out, John Tembo is dislodged in a manner that leaves him with the taste of bile in his mouth, support and votes from these two districts could be lost and this will make a very big dent.

Fronting John Tembo as a candidate, on the other hand, will be a monumental mistake because, with due respect, the man has gone beyond his “best use by” date. The MCP, to say the least, faces a major dilemma.

What can one conclude? The central region will be game to any party that can offer solutions or alternatives for the ailing tobacco industry, revitalize hope for the youth, create jobs and address the emerging and increasing marginalization.

The Northern Region – 680,000 votes: Kingmakers or not?

AFORD is seemingly on the rise again. If the reincarnated AFORD plays its cards well it could go into government in an alliance with PP, MCP, UDF or even DPP. Politics, somebody said, is the art of the possible.

Listening to commentators, one gets the impression that the agenda for the north is simple. A party that can demonstrate good faith and can strike a balance between equity and equality in the distribution of national wealth and development should easily secure AFORD as an ally and the northern votes.

To exploit this, a rejuvenated AFORD needs to come up with a nationally acceptable concept of federalism, market it and make it its bargaining chip on a take it or leave basis. Which so ever party wants AFORD as an ally has to commit to this and do so convincingly.

Given that voters in the north are very volatile, MCP, UDF and DPP will be wasting their time if they attempt to fight AFORD on its turf. What more proof does one require on top of the Rumphi Central bye-election?

MCP in its time let the north down; UDF took the north and AFORD under the late Chakufwa for a ride, and DPP, as we speak, is at it. Therefore, for these three parties, it would be wise to expend their energies and resources elsewhere.

PP, being sort of “new” – in quotes – has an outside chance. But it has to start talking to AFORD now, or else it will be cheating itself. It will swell its ranks with a few vocal recycled and opportunistic politicians who have no real following but claim otherwise. PP should learn from the Rumphi Central experience.

Simulating 2014:

Let us assume that DPP, PP and UDF share the southern vote equally. Each wound end up with about 670,000 votes.

Again, let us suppose that MCP retains its 2009 votes. It would have 780,000 votes; leaving roughly a million votes for the taking. Splitting this million equally between DPP, PP and UDF takes these parties’ tally up to 1,000,000 votes.

Assuming that PP, UDF and DPP will not bow to each other, they will therefore all need AFORD and/or MCP’s support to carry the day.

Now, let us complicate matters a bit further by envisaging, if it is humanly possible, an AFORD/MCP coalition. On paper, this coalition could amass 780,000 + 600,000 = 1,380,000 votes against the 1,000,000 that PP, DPP and UDF would each muster.

Where does all this lead to?

Reading all the above in the context of the assumptions spelt out earlier, IF:

–         PP, DPP or UDF do not form alliances and hence keep the southern vote split;

–         MCP retains its 2009 central region votes; and

–         AFORD regains its lost glory;

no party should in 2014 be strong enough to carry the day. If one does, it will be by a very small margin.

Alliances and coalitions?

How feasible is a PP /UDF alliance? Any possibilities out there for a DPP /UDF coalition? What are the chances of a PP /DPP alliance materializing? The answers to these questions are with Mrs Joyce Banda, Atupele Muluzi and Peter Mutharika and we will not try to outguess them. Again, any luck for an MCP/AFORD alliance? Again, we cannot hazard a guess.

To borrow the late Jika Nkolokosa’s phraseology: “All I can say” is that between now and 2014, we are likely to see all sorts of pacts and alliances. The partnership that gets the numbers and the balance right will be the victor. The easier choices for PP, DPP and UDF are MCP and AFORD as this would give the winner some sort of national mandate and base.

Thanks to flagrant nepotism, regionalism is back.

 

Wise One from the East

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