The by-elections that were conducted in seven constituencies and two wards across the country on Tuesday provided a critical reality check point in political parties which often ride on the illusion of previous popularity which might be gradually waning.
In a very basic assessment, it is clear that former governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is the biggest loser in the election after it failed to retain parliamentary seats in Karonga North West, Nsanje North and Nsanje Central constituencies.
Governing Malawi Congress Party (MCP) emerged the biggest winner for scooping seats in Lilongwe Msinja South, Ntchisi North and the two Nsanje constituencies.
It might have been a very difficult task for MCP to penetrate the Shire Valley constituencies and claim the rare victory. Voting patterns in Malawi are very clear despite that we are gradually witnessing some rare shifts.
In a way, MCP’s victory might also speak volumes about the waning spirit of DPP, which is rocked by divisions with various camps pushing to be at the front.
The former governing party’s loss is an important indicator of where it is going. In politics, parties are not supposed to give up their positions, more so when it comes to parliamentary seats.
They are supposed to do everything possible to retain seats even where the very initial supposed victory was questionable. DPP failed to do this and it is a bad sign.
Yet, it could also act as an important lesson about what the party should do right. In the meantime, it is a house divided and will continue struggling to retain its influence in various forums.
For MCP, the victory in the two Nsanje constituencies might feel very sweet. The party has previously been largely linked with the Central Region, such that it sometimes seemed impossible it would ever have its presence significantly felt in other regions.
Of course, for a long time that has been the reality— where political parties have mostly existed as regional entities with no particular strategy of going beyond their strongholds.
The penetration of MCP into the Southern Region might further be a crucial precursor of a more elaborate and intensive campaign of breaking regional barriers.
While all over the world, political parties have strongholds, scooping positions in other regions should be important in efforts aimed at uniting citizens.
For United Democratic Front (UDF), retaining the seat in Chikwawa East is good news. This is a political party that left government several years ago and has largely been riding on the back of DPP in recent years.
It could not even manage to field candidates in all constituencies across the country in the May 2019 parliamentary election. Yet, its candidate in Chikwawa East—whose 2019 election was nullified by the court— got re-elected, beating its partner at the 2019 poll, which lost three parliamentary seats.
UTM’s victory in Karonga Northwest also raises hope for the partner in the Tonse Alliance government which managed to win just four parliamentary seats in 2019. It now has five.
Members of Parliament are crucial in selling their party to the lowest levels. That is why political parties fight for those numbers, knowing that the arduous task of campaigning across the country is reduced.
If DPP is to maintain— and even—improve its standing on the political scene, it must do some serious soul-searching and correct the problem before it loses more of its impact.
As the main opposition political party, it must stand strong and provide the much needed checks and balances. It has a leader who is even paid by taxpayers because an opposition political party is as important in governance as a governing party.
DPP is talking about bouncing back. While in politics, the next move might never be as clear as others assume, any loss must be regretted.
No one celebrates loss. Of course, it may offer lessons on how to do better next time but next time might be too late if a party continues to lose important seats.
Well, the by-elections are done and dusted and what is important is for parties that have flopped to go back to the drawing board and gauge where things went wrong.
For those that have managed to make it, there should be important lessons in their victories. It might mean their tactics worked.