Updated: Jan 21
The Malawi Congress Party (MCP) just had a really good week. No, a great week! Claiming three parliamentary seats and two wards across the country against the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) single parliamentary victory was a major statement of the grip on power that the DPP still hangs on to as we speed up to the 2019 General Elections. Even Nicholas Dausi, a man hinged on refutation of every reasonable fact, was judicious enough to acknowledge defeat. However, according to this website, the outcome of the six by-elections is not necessarily a result of the growing popularity of the MCP, despite its deserving victory, but rather a fallout between the DPP and the electorate.
Here are a few reasons why.
It is no secret the DPP is facing a tumultuous leadership ordeal. Never had we had a sitting President acknowledge challenges one too many times. Never had a political party had a more edgy General Secretary. Reminiscent of the first DPP government, which became quickly infamous for lower than usual supplies of fuel, the current regime is battling a massive and growing public outcry on electricity supply, among other things. A lingering irony to the tale hovers on Malawi’s capacity to consistently provide energy that will spur both households and industries into productivity. It consists of a drive to restructure an industry that has been the domain of an electricity monopoly that has spent more time receiving government bailouts and supporting political events than on expansion solutions for electricity supply. While the DPP is not the sole contributor to the inefficiency of electricity supply (with ESCOM vehicles having hauled party zealots of the MCP, UDF and the DPP alike), it certainly has been an intimate part of the problem. More seriously, its solution to the limited power generation? Put together EGENCO and Mitsubishi in a marriage that will give the rebirth of Tedzani Hydroelectric Power Plant. To see why this may be sub-optimal, we discuss in a future article. Stay tuned.
The effects of corruption scandals and the shielding of political elites from prosecution are another vice preying on the DPP. The momentum with which the events that led to the firing of the then Minister of Agriculture, Dr. George Thapatula Chaponda, has now conveniently died down, and Dr. Chaponda’s hold to power seems to have resurfaced. We reported in our article of 17 March 2017 that the firing of Mr. Chaponda was probably a convenient way for the President to protect a friend, after having hesitated for far too long to act decisively. The corruption problem, a campaign pawn for the DPP government before and after taking the reins of power in 2014, has been a troublesome strategy due to how endemic it is within the ruling party’s very structure. Malawians note with each passing day that, over the years, the President’s public rants on the subject have embodied nothing but empty rhetoric that is a perpetuation of the status quo.
And now the blood suckers in DPP’s backyard. This may not be a completely related phenomenon to DPP’s waning grip on power lately, yet emblematic of the Party’s and government’s troubled disposition to duty. The silence from the government in addressing an obvious case of homicides, among a people who unwittingly believe serial killings must be caused by fictional beings, casts doubt in the ability of our leadership to focus on the things that matter. This website agreed with initial interventions by Mr. Mutharika when he denounced sensationalizing the vampire fabrication. However, without further implementing proper investigative action to put the culprits in a prison cell and prevent the loss of more Malawian lives, he – as is characteristic – opted to go into neutral gear. In doing so, he has let loose the beliefs in fake supernatural evil beings that are stirring a frenzy causing, yes, more deaths. It has taken the Malawi Defense Force to quell the insurgency in Blantyre which is purging perceived “blood suckers” responsible for mysterious killings.
The government’s strategy seems too relaxed in the face of so much heat associated with ongoing national challenges like electricity and economic degradation. A bizarre phenomenon like the bloodsucking saga in the South takes a bit of such pressure off the usual fending off of flames in their court. However, the folly of such inaction begins to show through by-election results as the overt symptom of slipping power.
Although the foregoing arguments must shape MCP’s re-rise to the helm of politics in Malawi, there ought to be a couple of reasons to caution careless celebration in the run-up to 2019. In the first place, three seats are not enough fodder for one to chew on, however significant in building the future momentum they are. But these events, as hinted above, signal a frustration on the part of the electorate with regards to the carefree attitude the ruling party wields in its pursuit of the promises it made to its people. The DPP, on the other hand, has the luxury of time between now and May 2019, in the sense that correcting any of the conspicuous vices could easily sway marginal voters to its side. Following voting patterns in Malawi, where in one election a group arises to elect one candidate and their sworn nemesis in another, there currently is no place for irreparable damage in Malawi’s politics. Consider the Northern Region, for example, which voted overwhelmingly for MCP in 2004 and DPP in 2009.
But there is another crucial outcome of last week’s by-elections that cuts much closer to MCP’s heart for the Ngwazi’s party to hastily harbor complacency. The DPP took a parliamentary seat in Mayani, Dedza District. The important difference in this by-election is one that reflects MCP’s unsurprising success as opposed to the planting of DPP influence in a location that is traditionally supposed to be MCP’s playground. While we all agree the DPP loss is welcome to many who would like to see Malawi move from customary idiosyncrasy towards real progress, it is too early to celebrate wholesomely the MCP rise long wished-for. There is still work to be done. It has to be done properly. And it has to bring not the leadership that Malawi fancies, but one that Malawi needs. Our past politics columns highlight the internal wrangles that remain to be resolved in the MCP.
In weighing the optics of the just gone by-elections, there is one force that remains a grey area, according to this website: the fact of whether the Mia effect is real. As much as we hope that the resurrected politician may have had a significant influence in MCP’s win in the Nsanje by-election, we doubt whether some of the reasons given above are in fact not more influential in the elections than Mr. Mia strategic presence itself. An important factor to consider is how Nsanje more recently voted for the DPP, in part, an action grounded in the hope the party instilled in the locals for looking out for their interests (the Nsanje inland port being of surplus benefit to the DPP.) But the more the promise fades in the horizon under a DPP leadership, it must also swell up a considerable amount of grievance from the same people who feel short-changed out of the deal. We are thus persuaded to invest our belief in the rationality of the people of Nsanje, while not completely ruling out the impact Mr. Mia may have made in steering the election in MCP’s favour.
This analysis goes far beyond a handful of by-elections. While we agree that last week was significant in sending enough shockwaves to our political system, the MCP need to enable itself to think at a larger scale for it to emerge as government in 2019. The dynamics at play in the various wards and constituencies where the party has flexed muscle are too context-specific and should inspire deeper analysis of the complexity of national elections to be contended with.
Our country has evidenced how progress in Malawi sometimes develops out of a strong opposition movement in Parliament, the most graphic example of which would be Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika’s successful first presidential term. The direction the by-elections last week set forth is one that is, in part, bound to lead the nation back on that course. Among the options we currently have on moving development forward, that seems to characterize potential change.
Yet, we also feel antsy about the outright belief in the winds of change blowing on the windward side of the MCP. At least, not too fast.
Congratulations, MCP! But there is some work to be done.