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An election that ended dominions

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By Wisdom Ngwira:

The May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections can best be described as the most tightly contested among the country’s three general and two tripartite elections.

For the first time in Malawi, ’ an incumbent president, Peter Mutharika, who has retained power under Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was challenged by two of his own Cabinet members in the presidential race.

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Former vice-president Saulos Chilima represented UTM and former minister of Health, Atupele Muluzi, stood on a United Democratic Front (UDF) ticket.

The country’s oldest political party, Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which had partnered former president Joyce Banda’s People’s Party (PP), made the polls even tighter.

Apart from roping in business magnet Sidik Mia as its presidential running mate, MCP also had the backing of former vice-president Khumbo Kachali.

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On paper, it seemed obvious that the DPP would still control the Southern Region which has been its political base since its establishment in 2005.

Similarly, the UDF would dominate the Eastern Region while MCP would as well take a grip hold of the Central Region.

On the other hand, the Northern Region, known for its unpredictability, would be a neutral zone.

The emergence of UTM on June 21 2018 seemingly changed the country’s political outlook as it both threatened the DPP’s and MCP’s bases.

UTM had roped in three senior DPP national governing council members in Patricia Kaliati, Noel Masangwi and Louis Ngalande.

On February 8 2019, UTM unveiled Michael Usi, an influential social activist from Mulanje, perceived to be one of DPP’s bedrooms.

The party also took on board Bon Kalindo, another member of Parliament (MP) from the same Mulanje. It seemed the south was bracing for a tight race.

The mere fact that UTM’s president, Saulos Chilima, comes from Ntcheu and has paternal roots in Lilongwe meant on paper that MCP’s dominion in the Central Region was under threat.

The eastern fall

The country’s first post-independence multiparty administrators, UDF, for the first time in history, saw their grip on the Eastern Region wrestled by DPP.

In the 2019 elections, DPP has managed to make significant inroads in the once UDF dominated districts of Machinga, Mangochi, Balaka and Zomba where they have more MPs than UDF.

For example, in Machinga, home to UDF’s Muluzi, DPP has come first with four parliamentary seats for the first time while UDF has got two.

Muluzi has even lost his seat to independent candidate Ajilu Kalitendere, eventually ending his 15-year reign as MP for the area.

Ester Jolobala and Grant Ndecha from Machinga East and South, respectively, are the only MPs UDF has got in Machinga.

DPP’s gains in the Eastern Region could be attributed to, among other factors, UDF’s indecisiveness on crucial party values.

For example, after DPP won the May2014 Tripartite Elections, UDF president Atupele single handedly took the UDF to bed with DPP.

Despite condemnation from some sections of the party’s supporters, Muluzi heeded no advice and was rewarded with a ministerial position in the five years.

Then Balaka North MP Lucius Banda tried to engage Muluzi to scrutinise the party’s association with DPP.

However, it all fell on deaf ears as Muluzi clang to DPP in what he frequently called “parliamentary alliance”.

After agreeing to disagree, Lucius remained in the opposition benches while the rest of UDF’s 13 MPs sided with DPP on the government side.

As the 2019 watch kept ticking, Banda joined UTM together with fellow UDF Balaka parliamentarian Patricia Dzimbiri.

Slowly, the Eastern Region was being eaten apart from two fronts, the DPP and UTM underground operatives.

In the 2019 results, UDF woke to its deep slumber only to realise that DPP had made so many inroads that it had to get the majority of votes from all districts in the Eastern Region.

That was the end of UDF’s over-20-year dominance in the Eastern Region. Blue winds are now blowing easterly.

All in all, DPP has heavily benefitted from UDF loss of control in the Eastern Region as it is the party that is pulling the shots with six MPs in Mangochi compared to UDFs four.

DPP has four MPs in Machinga while UDF has two and five in Zomba where UDF has one. In Balaka, DPP has two MPs while UDF has none.

The south, central compactness

Despite t UTM posing a serious threat to the Southern and Central regions, the two old foes still maintained their tight grip in their bases both on presidential and parliamentary polls.

In the Southern Region, DPP came first in all the districts and had to even get landslide victories in their stronghold districts of Thyolo and Mulanje.

DPP could not even be stopped by combined efforts of UTM’s Usi, Kaliati and Kalindo who all crashed out in parliamentary elections.

It has swept Mulanje clean, winning eight of the district’s nine constituencies and five out of eight seats in Thyolo. The remaining three have been taken by independent candidates.

In the Central Region, MCP’s reign continued, as it came first in all the districts in the region.

UTM’s impact was, however, minimal as it only concentrated on urban Lilongwe and a few other districts. DPP and MCP still have their political bases intact.

In districts like Kasungu, MCP has won eight parliamentary seats out of a possible nine. The remaining post has gone toby an independent candidate.

The collapse of parliamentary regimes

Since the re-introduction of plural politics in 1994, Uladi Mussa of Salima Central Constituency and Abubakar M’baya (UDF) had been in Parliament up to March 20 2019.

In the 2019 elections, however, the two’s 25-year dominion came to a halt. Mussa has been defeated by MCP’s Gerald Phiri.

The 2019 polls also brought to an abrupt end of 15 years of Rabson Chihaula Shaba’s reign in Mzimba South East Constituency.

Since 2004, Shaba had been the parliamentarian for the constituency but this year’s election has replaced him with vocal PP spokesperson, Ackson Kalaile Banda. Banda got 4,870 votes while Shaba got 3,724.

The 2019 elections also ended Enoch Chihana’s dominion of Rumphi Central Constituency since 2006.

Chihana inherited the seat in 2006 in a by-election following the death of his father, Chakufwa. He has now been replaced by Chidumba Mkandawire.

Kachali has also lost Mzimba West parliamentary seat. He has been dethroned by DPP’s Raymond Nkhata who amassed 9,737 votes against Kachali’s 8,887.

In Chiradzulu East, the people there brought to an end Henry Mussa’s over-a-decade reign.

In what seemed to be early pointers to defeat, Mussa was controversially declared winner in the DPP primary elections after beating closest challenger Joseph Nomale. However, Nomale stood on an independent ticket and has floored Mussa.

On-and-off long serving minister in UDF and DPP governments, Mulanje West parliamentarian Kaliati has also been booted out by DPP’s Yusuf Nthenda. Kaliati had been MP for the area since 1999.

The UDF and Alliance for Democracy (Aford), parties that participated in Malawi’s first ever multiparty elections in 1994, continued to lose their grips and relevance.

For example, UDF in 1994 won 85 seats in the then 177-seat Parliament while, in the 1999 elections, the party got 91 seats after parliamentary seats were increased to 193.

UDF’s fall started in 2004 when it got 49 legislators and further dwindled to 17 in 2009.

The downfall continued when it only collected 14 seats in the 2014 tripartite elections and now the party has only managed to grab 10 seats.

Of the two, Aford has been heavily hit as its dominion in the Northern Region has greatly dwindled from 1994’s 33 clean sweep and a further two in the Central Region to just one in this year’s polls.

PP has also been heavily hit as it has dropped to five seats from 26 in the 2014 elections.

2019 Tripartite Elections lessons

Chancellor College-based political scientist, Professor Happy Kayuni, sums up the May 2019 Tripartite Elections as a game-changer as well as a wakeup call to political parties and politicians.

“You see, what has happened to UDF in Eastern Region; this is a complete change of the politics in that region. DPP has taken full hold of that region and UDF will struggle to regain that stronghold,” he says.

Kayuni explains that UDF has to blame itself for losing its strong base to DPP as it was serving the wishes of DPP.

“It was clear from the start that the Eastern Region was going blue as UDF seemed not to care. UDF was just dancing to any tune that DPP did and eventually DPP was gaining ground,” he says.

“Atupele [Muluzi] was always around that area, selling DPP; this is the reason people in that area voted for the DPP,” Kayuni adds.

On why many old guards have been floored in this year’s polls, Kayuni says it is common for politicians to take for granted the people that vote for them.

“In Malawi, parliamentary turnover is high but, in this election, we have seen that people have said enough is enough and that is the reason you are seeing some people who have been in Parliament for decades being ousted now.

“We are having a new breed of the electorates who no longer dance to politicians who take them for granted,” Kayuni says.— Mana

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