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DPP, MCP, UTM, PP grapple with choice of running mates, coalition partners

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By Serah Makondetsa:

With 10 days before the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) starts receiving nominations from presidential candidates and their running mates, there is tension and divisions in major political parties ahead of May 21 Tripartite Elections.

The political groupings grappling with the choice of running mates and potential political alliances include the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

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In November 2018, Mec announced that candidates in the May 21 polls will present forms to the commission from February 4 – 8.

Reports verified by Malawi News during the week reveal that President Peter Mutharika has settled for leader of United Democratic Front (UDF) Atupele Muluzi, a development which has caused fractions in DPP.

Several sources that we spoke to but opted for anonymity because they are afraid of reprisals corroborated that cracks have emerged in DPP following Mutharika’s decision.

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On Wednesday, a senior Cabinet minister who spoke on anonymity, confirmed reports that Mutharika has picked young Muluzi saying there is huge resistance in the party as others are arguing the decision poses risks to DPP.

“It is very true that there are fractions in the party. This is the last term for the President and we cannot afford to have a running mate from another party. DPP has a legacy and it has to be maintained, what is going to happen is political suicide,” said the source.

The minister said those advocating Atupele to be running mate are scare-mongering by saying DPP needs UDF to win the presidential race and remain in government.

“But that is not true. We are mortgaging the party to UDF which is dangerous to the future of the party. Some of us are not party to it,” said the minister.

The sentiments were corroborated by other sources in the party.

But in an interview on Thursday evening, DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi said reports making rounds are mere talk.

“I can assure you that the selection of a running mate is strictly the prerogative of the President. Nobody can speculate, nobody can suggest or influence the President’s decision in choosing a running mate. All what people are saying is mere speculation because it is only the President who can know those things.

“But, in a democracy, people have the right to speculate, it means they are alive and normal. It simply means people are free to talk, think and imagine what they want,” he said.

Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera is the only presidential candidate who came out in the open to declare Sidik Mia as his running mate.

Yet there have been reports that the party wanted to enter into a coalition with People’s Party (PP) but the negotiations hit a snag.

An MCP senior member who did not want to be quoted on record confirmed the reports saying the talks between the two parties did not yield anything.

“It is true. We had been in talks with PP but our negotiations hit a snag. We could not agree on a workable relationship. So the talks did not materialise into anything tangible,” said the source.

But MCP spokesperson Reverend Maurice Munthali said the party has not been in official talks with any political party but was quick to say it is open to coalitions.

“The MCP has not officially been in talks with PP; however, the door is and has always been open for such talks because an alliance in the political circle is always on the table. As MCP, we would love to be in partnership with any party that shares our agendas, our missions and our values,” he said.

While supporting political alliances ahead of the elections, PP’s leader Joyce Banda could not come out in the open to say which party PP would want to partner with.

However, Malawi News established that a poll was conducted during the party’s National Executive Committee (Nec) meeting with majority of Nec members going for an electrical alliance with UTM although the top leadership wanted a partnership with MCP.

In an exclusive interview on Thursday, Banda said she could not speak for the party on the issue of coalition saying only the members can decide the direction of the party.

“I cannot talk on behalf of PP away from the National Executive Committee. I do not do that, so I cannot tell you who PP will partner with. Nec will inform me about what they want to see.

“If they want us to partner with Malawi Congress Party that is up to them. If they want to us work with UTM, it is up to them and, again, if they want to see us work with government, it is up to them. At the end of the day, all I know is people need to work together for the good of the country. If people feel that it is important to align and work with government so long as it benefits the people, then so be it,” she said.

UTM spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga said the party is also open to talks for a potential coalition.

“About the issue of alliance from UTM, we have said now and again that UTM is open to talk to any political party that has same ideologies. We have to agree on what we think is better for the country then later on we can talk about how we can do the alliance. So, we are open to talk to anyone whom we can enter into an alliance with,” he said

Asked as who UTM president and candidate of the party Saulos Chilima has picked as running mate, Chidanti Malunga said he already commented on the issue.

Earlier on he said: “We do not have proposed names, the president has the task to do that. We have been hearing those things, what you should know is, in politics, such things happen, people speculate, actually throughout the world people speculate. After all it is only MCP which has chosen a running mate the rest of us are still thinking. I do not think it is something we should be worried about.”

University of Malawi’s Chancellor College-based lecturer Mustapha Hussein described the situation as normal, arguing the forthcoming elections will be competitive.

“It is sensible for political parties to forge some sort of alliances because the 2019 elections will be very competitive; therefore, there is need for political alliances if they are to do well. Stiff competitions, I am talking of MCP, UTM, DPP and UDF because these parties have what they call strongholds,” he said.

Hussein said DPP and UDF alliance has not come as a surprise because the understanding has been there since 2014 as they have been working together in Parliament.

“The alliance would mean that mobilisation of voters will be strong. Other alliances, probably UTM is very unlikely that they would form an alliance with DPP but in politics anything is possible but maybe there are potential alliances with other opposition parties. Because whether people like it or not, UTM has shown that it can mobilise people in short time. I should say all the parties are doing their best to form alliances ahead of the elections,” he said.

In 1994 polls, UDF entered into a coalition with other political parties. In 1999 and 2004, the party contested without partnering any political grouping. In 2009, UDF partnered MCP while DPP contested alone in its maiden appearance on the ballot paper. In 2014, both DPP and UDF contested without partnership.

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