Alliances and election victory


By Gray Kalindekafe:

Peter Mutharika

Historically, Malawi has been a country of political alliances aimed at achieving majority for one end or another. During the struggle for independence from the colonial masters, various political parties ganged up to form a formidable opposition against what was almost a white’s only party in power.

This agrees with views expressed in the British Journal of Political Science, Volume 48, Issue 3 of July 2018, pages 593 – 609. It states that opposition political parties are more inclined to make alliances. So the people of Nyasaland were in opposition of the British rule, hence, the decision to work in league.


After independence with Hastings Kamuzu Banda on the premiership, some underground movement was born to oppose his policies on health; he wanted the citizens to be paying for their hospital bills, a thing which did not augur well with the likes of Kanyama Chiume. Although it failed to dent Banda’s popularity, it is counted as one of the attempts by like-minded individuals to seek victory in numbers.

Banda himself solidified his grip on Malawians using his clarion call of unity, obedience and discipline. Using this as a weapon, he made sure he suppressed any tribal or regional inkling. Although this was not the coming together of different political parties to win an election or push forward a seemingly unpopular bill in Parliament, it was an effective tool which ensured the nation was driven in one direction as dictated by Banda, under the umbrella of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). In my view, this was a form of alliance.

It should be quickly noted, though, that the victory which was achieved with an aim of gaining freedom from the British was not long lasting. Immediately after Banda became prime minister, divisions emerged within as a result of differences on policy.


Banda wanted citizens to be paying for their health services, but some of his top lieutenants such Kanyama Chiume did not agree. It is argued therefore that shared ideologies, vision, virtues and common agenda is what leads to real victory. For political parties, the idea is to deliver social services to the people, with those in power utilising national resources to meet that goal. Any deviation from that, where parameters for sharing the national cake are not equal, the drive that led to the alliances usually wanes.

To this, the British journal argues that “single parties cultivate a blinkered form of partisanship. They encourage partisanship to regard themselves as having privileged insights into moral and political. Participation can have unequal effects for those involved, both as associations and individuals. At a minimum, pacts may be more advantageous to some parties than others.”

Three decades later, when the Iron Curtain fell in Europe and the wind of multi-party politics started blowing with force across Africa, Malawi was not spared. MCP, under Banda was buffeted as the sand does to rocks on a windswept shore of Lake Malawi.

The Catholic Bishops working in liaison with some pressure groups rallied the masses to vote for multi-party politics. This led to the booting out MCP from power and the ushering in of the United Democratic Front (UDF).

Even this victory by the UDF was a result of tribes in the Southern Region working as an alliance to ensure Chakufwa Chihana, the trade unionist-turned-politician could not take over the mantle from the aged Banda. What Banda worked so hard to eliminate and to build true nationalism failed miserably as the Yaos, Lomwes and Mang’anjas joined hands to make Bakili Muluzi, the first president in the multiparty era. This alliance was therefore aimed at putting “their man in State House”. While it might have been the genesis of rekindled tribal sentiments, it is an achievement for the goal was met.

It may also be argued that alliances are not a problem of order, rather the focus should be on how they may be a source of stability in an interstate system governed by the balance of power.

Muluzi made good use of political alliances. He Muluzi roped in Chihana, making him second vice-president and also allowing him to head what was otherwise the most important ministry- Agriculture and Water Development. This kind of political engineering soothed some wounds in the Northern Region of the country, thereby, consolidating the power base.

Muluzi did not stop there as some men and women considered heavyweights were also considered with lucrative positions, where they mostly spent their time reclining on chairs in air conditioned offices at Capital Hill or accompanied him on his endless trips across the country, Africa and Europe.

It should be quickly noted that although this alliance solved the political problems, it was not firmly anchored on shared ideologies and intended for the poor. It was more of elitist, as those given positions as in the Cabinet and as board members of parastatals, were those considered heavyweights in Alliance for Democracy (Aford) or generally the Northern Region such as Chiphimpha Mughogho, Rodwell Munyenyembe, Kampunga Mwafulirwa.

While on the other hand, as argued by the British journal, political alliances are typically significant events in the life of a party, as times of great possibilities and risks. They promise to augment a party’s capacity to effect change, yet threaten to dilute what it stands for. Chihana’s Aford faced the possibility of being swallowed by UDF and diminishing its stance on economic growth, equalisation of infrastructural development across the country.

Muluzi also took the alliance weapon further when his self-chosen presidential candidate Bingu Wa Mutharika turned against him to form his own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). He followed it then by engineering a parliamentary alliance of UDF and MCP legislators which gave Bingu a torrid time to the extent of failing to pass the national budget.

A series of boycotts and extensions of the parliamentary meeting, and later a dose of Muluzi’s own medicine (buying of opposition MPs) facilitated the passing of the budget in two successive years of Bingu’s first two years at Kamuzu Palace. So while alliances are generally used for the good of the citizenry, politics somehow fosters selfish ends.

In 1999, Gwanda Chakuamba of MCP hooked Chihana to beat Muluzi. Unfortunately, after the election, the alliance did not carry the day.

Furthermore, in 2004 under Mgwirizino Coalition, with five months remaining before general elections, the same Chakuamba with his newly formed Republican Party, teamed up with other six political parties such as Aford, People’s Progressive Movement led by Aleke Banda, Malawi Democratic Party led by Kamlepo Kalua, National Democratic Alliance led by Brown Mpinganjira, Petra led by Kamuzu Chibambo and others, but failed again to dislodge UDF under the presidency of late Bingu. Instead, MCP became second and the coalition came third.

This attests to the fact that all alliances that are made in the country fail to achieve victory because they are hurriedly made without anchoring on ideologies but selfish interests of getting into the corridors of power.

Fast forward to the pre-2019 tripartite elections and the birth of UTM led by Vice- President Saulos Chilima, Malawi witnessed another form of unsigned alliance. The UTM and MCP joined in their voices to rally the masses against the DPP, vowing to remove DPP out of power. They were also in unison in their views that Peter Mutharika was bent on fraudulently winning the elections. Again they vowed and emphatically stated they would not allow any cheating to take place.

The unsigned alliance between UTM and MCP continues to manifest itself through their joint court action against a decision of the Malawi Electoral Commission which declared Mutharika winner of the May 2019 presidential election. For weeks on end, MCP president Lazarus Chakwera and Chilima were seen together making an appearance before the five-panel judges who formed the Constitutional Court.

Following the February 3 2020 decision by the constitutional court annulling the presidential election results, and probably not wanting to be outdone, DPP quickly turned to UDF to make an early bird preparation for the court ordered fresh election. While they did not come out clearly on how they have worked out power sharing, it is clear that DPP wants to lead with UDF producing a running mate. Mutharika has even rewarded some UDF top members with ministerial positions.

Also not wanting to be outdone, the Constitutional Court fellows, UTM and MCP, announced their alliance ahead of the fresh election. True to the arguments in the British Journal of Political Science, an alliance is an association of associations, it entails second order ties.

MCP and UTM have kept mum on who is going to lead; as party spokespersons are quoted saying discussions on finer points are still underway. The two are still ironing out modalities of stakes ahead and after the fresh presidential election.

Their ties are also looser; given the expectation that they are ultimately impermanent. If friends are forever, allies are for the time being. This means while the UTM/MCP alliance sees a common enemy in DPP/UDF alliance, there is still a possibility that in future this might not be necessary and each would want to pursue their ideologies.

But what is coming out clearly is that alliances are formed with an aim of advancing a common agenda. Just as the pre-multi-party era, UTM and MCP are determined to sweep DPP out of power. If they manage it, they will have ended an almost two decades of the rule by two families – the Muluzis and Mutharikas.

Again J. Brian O’Day in Joining Forces: A Guide to Forming, Joining and Coalitions, states that an electoral alliance combines resources of two or more parties to improve electoral outcomes for the members of the alliance. This may involve uniting behind a common candidate or agreeing not to compete against each other. It is clear therefore that alliances are formed with an idea of achieving victory.

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