Together but not united: Understanding Malawi’s political alliances

In the past three or so weeks, no phrase has graced media headlines more than ‘political alliances’.

Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential candidate Chakwera (r) and UTM president Saulos Chilima are seeking an electoral alliance

Welcome to season of political alliances.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and  United Democratic Front (UDF) set it all off a week ago with leaders Atupele Muluzi and Peter Mutharika sharing caps to announce their alliance.

Malawi Congress Party (MCP)  and UTM Party are still in the kitchen. But at the end of it all, we know that an alliance between the two is on the cards.

But why this hype about alliances?

Expert define a political alliance as coming together of two or more parties before an election to increase their winning chances.

Since the return of multi-party democracy in 1993—after 31 years of Kamuzu Banda one partyism—Malawi has witnessed series of political alliances.

But what has stood out, in these political alliances, is a glaring fact that they have only worked to keep the incumbent in power than help the opposition win government.

The question, then, is: What is it in Malawi’s political alliances that only helps to keep the incumbent in power but fails to help the opposition?

In this first place, it is important to underline that political alliances, elsewhere, have helped the opposition win government.

In 2000, a group of opposition parties in Senegal joined forces as the Sopi (or “Change”) alliance. Together, they defeated the incumbent president and ended 40 years of one-party dominance.

In 2002, Kenya’s opposition repeated the trick. In the 1992 and 1997 elections, losing parties had cumulatively gained over 60% of the vote. But this time around, they grouped together as the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). This united opposition swept to power, removing the party that had governed Kenya since 1963.

To mean, if well hatched, political alliances can do both: help incumbents maintain power and, also, help the opposition win power.

But why, in Malawi, does the opposition fail to use political alliances to take over government?

Wiseman Chijere Chirwa, professor of history at Chancellor College says there are a number of fundamental reasons behind this.

“In the first place, political alliances need to be well thought out before they are implemented. Those uniting need to find what they want to achieve and how they will do it,” he explains.

He adds that alliances need to be clear if their motive is just to unseat the government of the day or to be an alternative.

“Most coalitions have failed because they end up being not different from the incumbents that they are challenging. They are not well thought out,” he says.

He noted that that lack of a common ideology among the parties forming an alliance is another crucial factor behind failure.

“Almost all alliances have been motivated by an urgent need to unseat incumbents. They are not backed by any ideological commonality. They are so diverse in ways and beliefs, as a result, they fail to speak with a common voice,” he says.

Even timing, adds Chirwa, is another important factor that parties forming alliances ignore.

“The question is: When do you form an alliance? Parties need a common platform for time to easily reach out to voters and explain themselves clearly,” he says.

 

Even Blessings Chinsinga, associate professor of political science at Chancellor College, agrees with Chirwa.

“The challenge comes in because when an alliance is made at the last moment, parties fail to develop a joint platform to sell to the people. They end up being opportunists. They don’t offer development alternative at all, apart from unseating the incumbency,” he says.

Chinsinga, who gave an example of the MCP and UDF alliance in 2009 which was principally motivated by unseating Bingu wa Mutharika, added that another factor relates to uneven electoral field that opposition parties face.

“It is beyond comprehension that incumbents exploit every opportunity to their advantage. This works greatly to the disadvantage of the opposition,” Chinsinga said.

Malawi is slowly getting into the mood of fresh presidential elections, the first ever in the country.

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Kelwero
8 months ago

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POLITICAL PROPER GANDA
POLITICAL PROPER GANDA
8 months ago

Nangati kuli zitsilu mMalawi muno ndie CHAKWELA N CHILIMA ndi otsatila aku Living Stonia

Nicolous
Nicolous
8 months ago

Zimakusowani zolemba aKabawi

Dowa
Dowa
8 months ago

Chilima and Chakwera have never been honest and that is why they are struggling.

Mchawa
8 months ago

I beg to differ. The opposition has not been losing. Their victory was stolen by the ruling government with the help of the electoral commission.

Mbonga Matoga
Mbonga Matoga
8 months ago

I think this article has completely missed the point….to conclude that alliances has never worked for the opposition because they were not well thought through clearly shows that the writer is either new to Malawian politics or is another cadet masquerading as a journalist. First of all let me remind you that the only credible general election we have ever had since the dawn of multiparty politics in this country was the one in 1994….all other elections after that were a just a sham……abusing ordinary Malawians to go out to vote knowing too well that the results will be manipulated… Read more »

The Patriot
The Patriot
8 months ago
Reply to  Mbonga Matoga

They always miss the point when they expose the shortfalls of your party. Zimakhala chonchotu

Mwini muzi.
Mwini muzi.
8 months ago
Reply to  Mbonga Matoga

Follow the history of alliances that failed in Malawi UDF and Aford in 1994, MCP and Aford, UDF and MCP. All alliances have never been successful because of greed and differing in idiologies.

tiyowoye nyasulu
tiyowoye nyasulu
8 months ago

there was a meeting between the MCP/UTM and the army genral who want to take over government. it is going to start with Ntambo starting his trade mark of violent demonstrations and convege at state house then a coup will be made.

Atsibweni
Atsibweni
8 months ago

Because Chakwera and Chilima know they now can’t win through the ballot. But we are not stupid. We can’t allow our country be destroyed by two greedy and nasty idiots. A lot of Malawians are opening their eyes as to what this is all about.

elicy ngwenya
elicy ngwenya
8 months ago
Reply to  Atsibweni

you must be insane ,who wants to be ruled by that old thing?we r tired of this government ok?we r malawians we deserve to be treated fairly , u r talking bullshit !!!!! we need peace this is our own malawi

Kalulu Wadwala
8 months ago

Leave them to decide . But for sure change has come to malawi whether one likes it or not. God has seen the tears .

Madonzela
Madonzela
8 months ago

Just shows how greedy the two idoits are. Sitting under a tree for 61 Court days and can’t agree. Machende anu nonse. You can have good vision but your greed ruins everything…. I hope adad licks you again!

Anzelu ndi Anzelu
Anzelu ndi Anzelu
8 months ago

It seems the opposition got what they wanted but now dont want what they got.

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