How important are the October 17 2017 by-elections?
That is the question many are asking following presentation of nomination papers on Friday by all those who have lined up for the race in three constituencies and three wards across the country.
Coming 10 months after the previous byelections where the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), besides retaining a parliamentary seat in Mchinji West, and snatching Kaliyeka Ward in Lilongwe from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), political analysts have predicted results of the October 17 2017 byelections as a projection of what to expect in the May 2019 Tripartite Elections.
But the two parties have trashed the political analysts ’thinking and both parties are optimistic about winning all the seats in the byelections.
Happy Kayuni, Associate Professor of Political and Administrative Studies at Chancellor College, said in an interview yesterday, the by-elections are important as they are a way of projecting political mood as the country approaches 2019.
“They will determine whether particular parties are popular or they need to re-strategise or make some changes. I am aware that the byelections are not all over the country, but they will give an indication of what the country should expect in 2019,” said Kayuni.
On who holds the momentum, Kayuni said MCP and DPP are neckto-neck.
He, however, feels that MCP will take the two parliamentary seats in Lilongwe while Nsanje Lalanje could go either way.
Executive director of Institute of Policy Interaction (IPI) Rafik Hajat also said the byelections are a popularity test for the contesting two major parties.
He likened the situation to a school which writes mock examinations before the real ones.
However, Hajat warned all the people contesting to be aware of tricks the DPP could undertake.
“DPP is a currently ruling the country and it has the tendency of abusing resources. Those contesting should be extremely careful so that it does not use public resources for campaign,” he said.
But head of History Department at the Catholic University, Stalico Chilanga, said those who will be elected in the by-elections will not bring any meaningful change because they will serve for a short time.
“It is just a waste of time and resources because those that will be elected will not change anything because time is short.
Again, while the ruling party has failed the country, the opposition is so weak that it easily bows to government’s wishes,” he said.
Chilanga insisted that it is difficult to point the party that holds the momentum because while government has lost popularity elsewhere, the opposition is weak.
Up for grabs on October 17 2017 are parliamentary seats in Lilongwe Msodzi North, Lilongwe City South East and Nsanje Lalanje Constituencies and ward councillor positions in Mtsiliza Ward in Lilongwe, Mayani North Ward (Dedza) and Ndirande Makata Ward (Blantyre).
In Lilongwe Msozi North, MCP has fielded former People’s Party (PP) 2014 presidential running-mate Sosten Gwengwe while DPP is fielding Sebastian Bruno Daka.
In Lilongwe City South East, Ulemu Msungama is the MCP torchbearer against DPP’s Reuben Ngwenya.
The vacancy in this constituency came about after Msungama won a court battle against DPP’s Bently Namasasu, who was declared winner by the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) in the 2014 Tripartite Elections.
It took the Supreme Court to declare the seat vacant—after Namasasu had served for about half the term. In Nsanje Lalanje, MCP has Lawrence Sitolo as its candidate.
He will face DPP’s Gladys Ganda, widow of the former parliamentarian, the late Sam Ganda.
MCP president Lazarus Chakwera has had a bad name from DPP over campaign for the by-elections in this constituency, after he allegedly wrote donors to complain about alleged intimidation and attempted bribery of their candidate by DPP.
DPP denied the accusation, calling it ‘an attempt [by Chakwera] to seek donors’ wrath on government’. Despite all this, the two parties feel confident they will carry the day in the October 17 by-elections.
MCP deputy secretar y general Eisenhower Mkaka said they even wished the elections were held today.
“We are so prepared that even if MEC changed the date [of voting] to tomorrow, we will carry the day,” Mkaka said.
The Southern Region is perceived to be the stronghold of the DPP, but Mkaka said MCP is not concerned with that, “because things have changed”.
“Tables have changed and the DPP no longer commands the Southern Region. We are getting the seat with a wide margin and we expect to do the same in other places where there are by-elections,” he said.
DPP publicity secretary Francis Kasaila also stressed that his is ready as it has fielded candidates in all the six places.
He said he was equally not concerned with the known assumption that the Central Region is the home of MCP.
“We already have seats in the Central Region; therefore, we have equal chances of winning there. People appreciate our programmes and they will vote for us,” he said.
During the November 1 2016 by-elections, MCP besides retaining the seat in Mchinji West Constituency and snatching Kaliyeka Ward from DPP, it also retained Bembeke Ward in Dedza.
The DPP retained Bunda and Sadzi wards in Kasungu and Zomba respectively.
The by-elections were characterised by voter apathy.