16 November 2019
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An election that ended dominions

Written by  Wisdom Ngwira

Mzuzu, June 6, 2019: The May, 21, 2019 polls 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’s history, 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.

Former Vice-President Saulos Chilima, represented UTM Party and the then health minister, Atupele Muluzi, stood on 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 a backing from former Vice-President Khumbo Kachali.

On paper, it was obvious that the DPP will 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.

Emergence of UTM on 21 June 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 8 February, 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 the MCP’s dominion in the central region was under huge threat.

The eastern fall

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

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

For example, in Machinga, home to UDF’s Muluzi, the 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 parliamentarian 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 the DPP won the 2014 Tripartite Elections, UDF president Atupele Muluzi singlehandedly 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.

The then Balaka North parliamentarian 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 to 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 later 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, the UDF wake to its deep slumber only to realise that the DPP had made so many inroads that it had to get the majority votes from all districts in the eastern region.

That was the end of UDF’s over 20-year dominance in the eastern region. Blue wind is now blowing easterly.

All in all, the DPP has heavily benefited 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.

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

The south, central compactness

Despite the emergence of 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, the DPP came first in all the districts and had to even get landslide victories in their bedroom districts of Thyolo and Mulanje.

The 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 central region.

The UTM impact was, however, minimal as it only concentrated in 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 been won by an independent candidate.

The collapse of parliamentary regimes

Since the introduction of plural politics in 1994, Uladi Mussa of Salima Central Constituency and Abubakar M’baya (UDF) had been in parliament up to May, 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 People’s Party spokesperson Ackson Kalaile Banda. Banda got 4870 votes while Shaba got 3724.

The 2019 elections also ended Enoch Chihana’s dominion of the 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.

Former Vice-President Khumbo Kachali has also lost Mzimba West parliamentary seat. He has been dethroned by little known DPP’s Raymond Nkhata who amassed 9737 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 Patricia 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 the 1994’s 33 clean sweep and a further two in the central region to just one in this year’s polls.

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

2019 Tripartite Elections lessons

University of Malawi’s Chancellor College based political scientist Professor Happy Kayuni sums up the whole 2019 Tripartite Elections as a game changer as well as a wakeup call to political parties and politicians.

“You see what has happened to the UDF in the eastern region; this is a complete change of the politics in that region.

“Believe you me, the DPP has taken full hold of that region and UDF will never regain that stronghold again,” he says.

Professor 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 protecting its interest considering that it is the party in majority there.

The UDF was just dancing to any tune that DPP did and eventually the DPP was gaining ground,” he says.

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

On why many old guards have been floored in this year’s polls, Professor 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 electorate who no longer dance to politicians who take them for granted,” Kayuni says.

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