Botched political alliances soil Malawi’s democracy shindig

Written by  Felix Mponda

Malawi’s political scene has since 1994 never been short of surprises, turns, twists and absolute shockers during election period.

It never worked: Cassim Chilumpha, Joyce Banda and Saulos Chilima bid for an alliance. It never worked: Cassim Chilumpha, Joyce Banda and Saulos Chilima bid for an alliance.

My view is that botched political alliances are soiling the country’s democracy shindig.

The latest shocker is that of Cassim Chilumpha of Tikonze People’s Movement- a coalition of several parties including Mafunde and PPM- which blew the whistle a bit late that the former vice president was never endorsed as the TPM presidential candidate.

For sure, Chilumpha, a lawyer by profession and former vice president (2004-2009), won’t appear on the ballot paper on May 21 after he seemed to have fulfilled all legal requirements to allow him to stand with political novice Zione Makumba as his running mate.

I have no immediate answer why the whistle blowers took time to stop Chilumpha with a court order. Nor do I know why Chilumpha himself took things in his stride and went ahead to present nomination papers, complete with K2 million, to MEC at a colourful ceremony in March. And why MEC received the papers and cash without tough scrutiny. Or they did?

The reclusive Chilumpha himself says it's over.. He doesn’t seem to have the time and resources to fight the courts. Didn’t he himself realise that he was wasting his cash, time and other resources? What about the waste of resources of state and time?

Chilumpha may be excused. He is not the first to find himself in this political logjam.

It all started in 1994 when Aford’s Chakufwa Chihana two months after elections formed a coalition with its devil –the Malawi Congress Party of Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

It happened after Chihana, democracy and human rights champion, had failed to clinch Sanjika Palace, coming third in the first multi-party poll which was won by UDF’s Bakili Muluzi. The MCP, which Chihana had famously dubbed the party of “death and darkness”, came second, with HKB conceding defeat even before the last vote was counted.

Chihana’s move had come because he had failed to join the Muluzi administration. He said at that time Aford had no choice but to work with either of the devils. Chihana, who championed the defeat of MCP, said the alliance was against segregation and political polarization.

And Kamuzu himself said the deal was to teach Malawians the value of political tolerance.

It was never to be. The alliance collapsed, and Chihana was at it again, denouncing the “party of death and darkness.”

UDF failed to cajole Chihana to join the government. He used to say UDF was full of recycled politicians.

Things changed. Chihana changed his tact. He joined the UDF government as a coalition partner. He was given second vice president slot. Muluzi, on one hand, called the alliance a “triumph for democracy…we want to safeguard democracy and build a sense of unity.”

Chihana, on the other hand, said it was for “political stability in order for people to devote their minds and energies to development.”

It was obvious the alliance was never liked by supporters of both Aford and UDF. Chihana, who in 1994 had started with 33 MPs, all from the North, ended with less than 10 MPs by the time he moved out of government in 2004. Aford was going through the dire straits. Don’t ask me now how many MPs Aford has. Ask me after May 21.

The famous Mgwirizano Coalition of 2004, headed by Gwanda Chakuamba, came with a bang. It lost the poll. Chakuamba went into government as Agriculture minister. It was a short stint. He couldn’t agree with Bingu. Coalition partners went on their ways. The rest is history.

Then came the UDF/MCP alliance of 2009. It came because Muluzi had been denied by MEC to bid for presidency for the third time after a five year break. Muluzi had already served his two terms, and constitutionally, that’s it- how intelligent as a president you might be, you serve only two terms—one of the tenets of Malawi democracy.

So, Muluzi, much to the annoyance of UDF supporters, went to bed with John Tembo of MCP. He only wanted to remove President Bingu wa Mutharika, who had earlier ditched the UDF which sponsored him to win the presidency in 2004 to front the DPP in 2005.

That angered Muluzi, hence teaming up with the devil-MCP, which lost the 2009 poll.

There was no coalition in 2014, the year DPP through APM came from the woods to snatch the presidency from JB.

And 2019 has been dramatic. Some coalitions lasting three days, while Tikonze People’s Movement, itself a coalition of small political parties,came about and remained undecided whom to join—UTM or PP .

No coalition has won an election in Malawi. And in 2019, PP has joined MCP under a loose alliance, while UTM and UDF are going solo. That the three will split the vote cannot be contested.

And going solo against a solid incumbent government such as the DPP will require a miracle to win the vote.

Kaya kapena chaka chino!

But one thing is for sure: Botched political alliances are spoiling the democracy party.

*** The views in this article are those of the author and not MBC.

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