T he by-elections that took place in five areas on Tuesday have offered free evaluation for our political parties and the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec). As one of my good friends observed; the voters have voted with their feet. They deliberately developed cold feet and elected to stay put at their homes.
But as they say, actions speak louder than words and it is very important that we unpack the meaning behind what the voters have loudly said in their silence. Each political party and Mec have a share of the message as follows:
Malawi Electoral Commission
The voters are smart. They have been voting since 1993 long before most of these commissioners and secretariat staff developed interest in political issues. In fact, the voters have all along participated in politics out of their own will while the commissioners and staff are participating as a way of earning a living.
Using their experience, 133,345 voters registered in the five areas. But only 25,150 turned out to vote, representing about 19 percent.
This is the first lesson for Mec that the voters were only interested in having the registration card. The card is very important to Malawians in the absence of the national identity card. Most Malawians cannot afford to have other forms of identification cards such as a driving licence or a passport. But the card identifies them in banking halls and during windfalls such as distribution of relief food items.
The other reason is that, the voter lost confidence in Mec’s capacity to manage elections as evidenced by many unresolved electoral disputes since 2004. The voter also knows that Mec will not do anything meaningful on complaints that agents of the ruling party flouted electoral rules in some of the polling centres.
Democratic Progressive Party
The DPP has come out of these elections as the most bruised participant. Its ego has been shattered and the party does not even know what has hit it.
Forget the “garbage” that the DPP has made inroads in the Malawi Congress Party stronghold. These by-elections were for the DPP to lose.
Take Mchinji West Constituency for instance, the DPP dragged everyone out of Capital Hill and Kamuzu Palace to camp in the Constituency. The DPP took advantage of its access to state resources and put up an unprecedented campaign in the area but came out with its tail tucked between its legs.
It is not true that Mchinji West is a stronghold of the Malawi Congress Party. The Constituency is what would have passed as a central area in other towns. It covers the urban side of Mchinji from Kamwendo Trading Centre to the Boma and beyond. Its population is heterogeneous as most of the residents find themselves in the district because of employment. That is why in 2009, the late Bingu wa Mutharika bagged that seat through Theresa Mwale. Mwale went on to secure a position in cabinet.
This time around, Mwale announced her defection back to the DPP just in time for the by-elections but it never paid any dividends. The DPP also enlisted the help of MCP veterans Foloma Mwale and Chingaipe Banda. Foloma Mwale has been MCP chairman for Mchinji since the time of the late Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
For over 40 years, Mwale has been a political magnet in Mchinji and his word has always been a law in the district. Legend has it that a Gulewamkulu dancer once boarded a public bus without money for the trip. When he was asked for the fare, he reportedly said he had no money by he was instructed by Foloma Mwale to board that bus and attend Kamuzu’s rally. The tale only goes to show the reverence that people of Mchinji had for Foloma Mwale.
Until recently, Mwale was MCP chairman for Mchinji North while Chingaipe Banda was chair for Mchinji South.
Then there is the issue of cabinet ministers camping in the constituency. The DPP made sure that at least three cabinet ministers had to be in the constituency every week throughout the campaign period. Vice President, Saulos Chilima, visited the Constituency four times. The crowning was when President Peter Mutharika addressed a campaign rally where “thousands” turned out to hear him.
And until the eve of the polls, the DPP was still distributing rice to woo the voters to its side. The people smiled, ate the rice and voted for the DPP’s rivals.
Then the DPP failed to retain Kaliyeka Ward in Lilongwe City. This is a strategic seat as it contributes to having a mayor in the Capital City.
This is a painful but necessary lesson for the DPP. The way the party is being managed leaves a lot to be desired. How can a ruling party run for two years without holding a National Governing Council meeting? Who is making decisions and how inclusive are those decisions?
Malawi Congress Party
The MCP should also do a serious soul-search. The party’s leadership should be embarrassed that it failed to snatch Kasungu Bunda Ward from the grip of the DPP. If parties have a home, then Kasungu should be a bedroom of the MCP.
But the party has allowed itself to be detracted by sponsored divisions that threaten to tear it asunder. To date, the MCP is failing to penetrate the populous Southern Region. With proper planning, MCP could easily grab Sadzi Ward in Zomba. Sadzi voters are confused since their party, the People’s Party, seems leaderless.
Taking campaigners from Central Region to the south can only repel the voters as they do not speak the same language.
United Democratic Front and People’s Party
For lack of space, I will lump the two former ruling parties together. UDF has flirted with the voters for far too long. The voters want marriage not a mere courtship. They cannot trust the party with its prostituting leadership. The PP acting president, Dr Uladi Mussa, also has to ask himself some serious questions. After being in all major parties in the country, he cannot reposition the PP to pull a surprise. He even failed to protect Sadzi Ward which is under PP’s MP Patricia-Kainga Nangozo of Zomba Central Constituency.
As Kamlepo Kalua puts it palibe amadziwa mtengo wa nyama ya kuphwando (there is no dignity in freebies). The poor want power and water all day every day, low interest rates, affordable and quality public education, security for their lives and property as well as three decent meals a day. Not free tasteless rice!
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