Only 235,164 Malawians voted for Atupele Muluzi on 21 May 2019. In other words, the only mark of popularity Mr. Muluzi could claim to his good name rested with the mercy of only 4.67% of voters. In 2020, his story is doubtless not going to change much. But despite its grim prospect in the forthcoming presidential election, the United Democratic Front (UDF) still seems the only devil the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) can take to bed. Why does Peter Mutharika think an alliance with the young Mr. Muluzi is a game changer in 2020?
Some answers lie in an article this website published on 10 June 2019. In this piece, we highlighted how Malawi’s political leaders seem too focused on the presidency as the real win in an election. To a great degree, the desperate negotiation of electoral alliances being forged for the 2020 presidential vote continues to confirm this assertion. Unfortunately, not just for Mr. Mutharika, but all three major political Parties of which the UDF is not insofar as presidential elections are concerned. Nonetheless, Peter Mutharika appeared satisfied with the alliance his DPP struck with the UDF last week and was persuaded to even invoked God’s blessing to this winning team.
On the other hand, the alliance everyone and their grandmother are looking forward to hearing about is the Malawi Congress Party (MCP)-United Transformation Movement (UTM) nuptial. Unlike the expected outcome of a DPP-UDF pact, that which gives Mr. Mutharika not very much beyond 43% of the vote, in spite of his otherwise confident demeanor, cross-breeding the MCP and UTM might potentially yield a presidential candidate that could win by a majority. This should be cause for concern for the DPP, but mainly for everyone interested in ousting a DPP (and UDF) that has done little development beyond lip service. But the marriage between Reverend Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima will likely not go down in our country’s history as straightforwardly as a clergyman’s should. It will likely take time to materialize, if it will at all.
For starters, Messrs. Chakwera and Chilima have, like Mr. Mutharika, both projected their egos on the podium as electable and most deserving candidates for the presidency. Dr. Henry Chingaipe, an expert commentator observes this very well (see here). They each believe the 2019 election was theirs to win! This creates a significant wedge between them that the only real alliance we’ve seen them forge so far is their ruthless collaboration that culminated in the nullification of the 2019 presidential election by the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) on 3 February. Yet, ever since the ConCourt announced its judgement, MCP and UTM have taken to the stage on two separate podiums to address their bases. This makes sense. At the time of the ConCourt sitting, they had a common enemy. Now, they are again each other’s daring competition.
But there is an assumption we are making on the idea of the perfect alliance, which is benchmarked on the 2019 results. While a reasonable indication of how the 2020 election might turn out, it may also be tactically erroneous for any campaign strategist to get busy with crunching numbers in such linear fashion. The foremost factor being that the 2019 result has been thrown out on account of irregularity. This means any of the three candidates could have won the election with the clear exception of Mr. Muluzi whose odds for losing were as sure as the Lake of Stars. After 3 february 2020, we will never really know with exactitude. Secondly, we need to bear in mind that on 19 May 2020, it’ll be about a year since we last voted. We can’t assume that voters will vote in the same patterns as they did in 2019. So, a possible MCP-UTM alliance shouldn’t put all its eggs in the “forecasted 55%” margin of the vote. For example, there will be some MCP or UTM voters who will disapprove of the alliance. On the other hand, there will be those energized by the union and will rally others along. It’ll be wise for MCP and UTM to assume the DPP-UDF club might have the same far-reaching appeal on voters too.
According to this website, then, it seems reasonable that Mr. Chakwera and Mr. Chilima appear unreasonable for being sticklers for detail before an alliance can be agreed. But they mustn’t let this get the best of them that they lose sight of the grand prix, which is to remove the DPP from government. They must capitalize on the great combo they made in the ConCourt battle as a great starting point. Although the MCP asserts they will only sign on the dotted line if Lazarus Chakwera, their 2019 torchbearer, emerges the alliance’s candidate, they need to compromise. They need the alliance as much as UTM needs it.
One such compromise for MCP is, regardless of the alliance’s candidate, to drop off its baggage in the name of Sidik Mia as running mate. To the voter, a duet between Chakwera and Chilima is much stronger – and highlights unity and humility much better – than one between Chakwera and Mia. This must be a quick decision to make for MCP (a similar decision to drop Michael Usi should be relatively easy for the UTM). After all, Mr. Mia, who in 2014 resigned from the People’s Party, a cabinet post and the political limelight altogether, cannot parade enthusiasm for a running mate role than Mr. Chakwera and Chilima ever could.
Time is not on anyone’s side.
To his credit, Mr. Muluzi is already rallying his supporters behind Peter Mutharika and we don’t know who else will be coming along with him. If Mr. Mutharika is right, having Mr. Muluzi on his side may eventually reveal a secret weapon that may aid his campaign. Mr. Muluzi is young and has moved much excitement not just among the Eastern Region voters, but also in the Central Region. His might may not be anchored in his own popularity as a presidential candidate, but his message may be persuasive to voters who resonate with his youthful age and calm demeanor through his public service in the recent past.
A potential MCP-UTM alliance must start wooing its voters now. This is no time to waste on measuring their manhood.