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On the political chessboard: What beast is UDF/DPP?

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There has been considerable debate on what the status of the United Democratic Front (UDF) is in Parliament. Some have lamented the death of multiparty democracy now that the UDF, which commanded large parts of the South and made inroads in the Centre and North, has effectively been swallowed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

With UDF members serving public affairs from government benches, the last nail has been driven into the coffin that was once a mighty party, so goes the argument.

But the issue seems pretty much settled. The Attorney General, Malawi Law Society, eminent law academics and practitioners alike agree that as long as UDF members of the House have not joined DPP they have not crossed the floor.

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However, these legal— or are they simply academic positions?— have not dampened the Public Affairs Committee (Pac)’s resolve that the UDF MPs have actually crossed the floor and wants the Speaker of Parliament to unleash Section 65 of the Malawi Constitution to discipline Atupele and his power deprived lieutenants.

There have also been calls for the UDF leader to give way as he is seen to have mortgaged the party. Many supporters and MPs are aggrieved by the move but they have had no fair platform to express their concerns. In other words, Atupele has been unilateral and dictatorial.

Recent media assessments of what supporters and other members of the public feel about UDF clearly point to frustration and disillusionment with the young leader they trusted.

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Yet Atupele is unmoved, or so he seems. According to this ung’ono-ung’ono embodiment, he remains solidly in power and the voice of the party. Quoted by NyasaNet, Atupele says: “I am the leader of the party. I speak as the leader of the party in Cabinet and in Parliament. I am the voice and the leader of the party.”

Words of great courage, albeit somehow embarrassing to have to explain a rather awkward opportunist decision which either way has affected the party badly. It is not clear if this is one of the feats of political engineering for which the senior Muluzi is best known or it is sheer opportunism in an often dry and slow-going inter-electoral period.

After all, where is the threat of constitutional action if since 1994, Section 65 has been consistently ducked and manipulated so much so that there have been calls for its removal as it serves no purpose. Or perhaps what we now see are classical works of politics and law—two poorly disciplined professions known for extreme oscillations away from clear truths and obvious answers.

Meanwhile, the DPP has nothing but harsh words for MCP/ People’s Party (PP) cooperation in Parliament which it says is meant to frustrate government and yet remain conveniently woolly on the exact rationale of the UDF/ DPP ‘parliamentary working relationship’.

Interestingly, government has blamed the opposition arrangement as ‘regionalistic’ and deliberately overlooked the obvious ‘tribal agency’ that its own alliance in Parliament represents.

Is the UDF/DPP coalition really about nation building?

No, certainly not. UDF and DPP are both southern leviathans while MCP and PP have a much better regional spread. Coalitions prop up parties unable to form majority governments or parties in power without parliamentary control. It is governments of national unity that directly respond to calls for nation building. In any case if DPP wanted nation building it would have worked with parties and leaders from regions other than the South.

Meanwhile, it is all lies that UDF can be critical of government. UDF is tamed, little wonder its leader did not respond to the State of the Nation Address at the opening of the Budget Session of Parliament.

I am with those who fear that UDF faces its demise right now. It will be very hard for Atupele to put his ‘Agenda for Change’ back on course. He will not be able to regain his ‘ung’ono-ung’ono appeal’ which sparked the imagination of many young electorates in the country.

Even after loss at the elections, Malawi had created in Atupele a future leader with a distinct leadership ideology and a young support base to buttress it. It’s all lost.

Atupele may not see it because these are times of great prospects. Or if he sees the damage he can afford to ignore it because on the political chessboard he fits into a grand plan in which UDF/DPP will re-incarnate into a beast which assures Atupele both survival and entry into the presidency.

How will this play out?

You see, the rumour must be true that President Peter Mutharika sought to appoint Atupele Muluzi Second Vice President. The rumour could also be right that all is indeed not well between President Mutharika and his high-performing Vice- President Saulos Chilima.

Why? This is my theory – take it or leave it:

With MCP freely repositioning for alternative government, plus the easy gravitation of a shrinking PP towards MCP, plus the likely gravitation of other parties dissatisfied with the showing of DPP towards an emerging power house led by MCP, DPP is as exposed as it is vulnerable.

Its strategy?

DPP has made a move on an early strategic alliance with UDF not just to swell numbers in the House— although that’s part of it along with luring independents— but to rehearse 2019 on the political chessboard right now. This logically makes the position of Chilima unattainable for two reasons.

First, the DPP/UDF alliance can only work if the running mate is from UDF, assuming Mutharika runs, which is admittedly the most favoured scenario. Second if Mutharika does not run, it procedurally leaves Chilima, who is neither favoured by most DPP gurus nor is he appropriate because then the 2019 elections will pit two centre-led parties— along with MCP—effectively moving the political power base from the South to the Centre.

Complicated stuff ? Not quite. True or false, I certainly do not know.

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