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Tribal politics and 50+1 law

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When the High Court sitting as a Constitutional Court finally declared that the first-past-the-post system of electing a president was not what was envisaged by drafters of our Constitution, there was a general perception that, moving forward, voting along regional or tribal lines would no longer take someone to the hot seat.

In the midst of the euphoria that accompanied the judgement and its declaration that a rerun presidential election should be conducted, now-governing Malawi Congress Party and UTM formed an alliance together with other seven political parties to drive the Democratic Progressive Party out of government.

And they succeeded.

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However, today, that alliance is standing on shaky legs. The main partners remain there to make a virtue of necessity.

UTM has been government’s biggest critic and there are suspicions that some of the mess that we are frequently seeing and hearing about is being exposed by this ‘estranged’ partner.

The party feels ostracised after some of its members who eyed positions in government were ignored in many ways.

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That is why some observers have been wondering whether it is high time Malawi had a law in place to regulate the formation and management of political alliances.

The 50-percent-plus-one-vote law, which has now been ‘formalised’ by Parliament, with provisions for what happens after such a benchmark has not been reached, means it will be very difficult for a single political party to make it at the first go.

Still, the essence of the law is that a president should really be elected by the majority; they should win the hearts of many with their policies which they expound during campaign time.

But because it is difficult for a single party to make it on its own, alliances will be inevitable.

So, essentially, policies from two or more political parties may have to come together to form the views of one block that will run at the presidential election.

The challenge with alliances, if they are not formalised and taking into account the discord that exists in Tonse, is that they will not create a united government beyond elections unless the terms are very clear.

Yet still, even with the terms being clear, without anything legally binding them, anyone can choose to ignore them.

Now, let us look at what is likely to happen ahead of the 2025 election.

If all the major political parties decide to go solo, chances are high that there will be a rerun.

Now, since a rerun takes only the first two, it means the rest will have to choose who to rally behind. At that point, the ‘losers’ are desperate to support the candidate they feel has more chances to win the second election.

In that case, they may also support a particular candidate simply because they don’t want the other one to win the election.

At the end, the winning candidate will not always necessarily make it on the basis of their policies that have persuaded the majority, but because there has to be one winner anyway.

Perhaps, that is why it is indeed important that something should be done about alliances.

We must also have learnt enough lessons from the chaos that is the Tonse Alliance such that we must find ways of rewriting the script.

Of course, there is also the opportunity of Malawians benefitting from the 50-percent-plus-one-vote law in the sense that presidential candidates will have to take into account the “whole country” when campaigning and therefore allowing voters in every part of the country to gauge their policies.

The first-past-the-post system made it easy for political parties and their candidates to choose specific areas where to intensify their election campaigns because they were confident they needed just some more votes to add to those from their strongholds.

So you could have someone being declared winner even after getting less than 35 percent of the total vote cast.

Yet a president has to be popular among the people they lead and that has to happen through those people supporting their leader’s policies.

Now, the 50-percent-plus-one-vote law is here. It is necessary that as a nation, we engage in more conversations about how this law can effectively achieve its purpose.

In all this, the issue of alliances features highly.

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