The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) of The Economist magazine says President Peter Mutharika may have an edge over the opposition in 2019 elections, but could slip if the economy worsens.
However, the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and People’s Party (PP) have dismissed this analysis, saying it is not reflective of reality on the ground.
The EIU—in its 2016 second quarter forecast report for Malawi generated on June 28 2016—sees MCP leader Lazarus Chakwera as Mutharika’s biggest threat with his anti-corruption platform.
Chakwera came a close second to Mutharika in the 2014 presidential race in which he swept the Central Region vote while it was the populous Southern Region vote that propelled the incumbent President to victory.
But the magazine dismisses former president Joyce Banda—who came a distant third to Mutharika in 2014—as too saddled with political baggage to mount any challenge for a return to the presidency.
Banda did well in the sparsely populated Northern Region, but the margins were not strong enough to off-set her hegemony weaknesses in the South and Centre.
Regionalistic politics, the power of incumbency and a disorganised opposition make Mutharika the favourite, according to EIU, which predicts that he will seek re-election.
“We expect Mr Mutharika to stand for re-election and, since regional affiliations ultimately determine the outcome of Malawian polls, the incumbent’s continuing popularity in the most populous Southern Region will give him an edge. The MCP and its leader, Lazarus Chakwera, will campaign on a message of anti-corruption, but it will struggle to offer any viable policy alternatives.
“Nevertheless, should an economic recovery fail to take hold prior to the polls, the MCP and Mr Chakwera stand to gain. The popularity of the previous president, Joyce Banda, will remain weak, following revelations of widespread misappropriation of public funds during her tenure,” explains the report.
EIU, an internationally acclaimed risk and forecast think-tank, has released the findings at a time when major parties, including MCP, PP and the ruling DPP have been embroiled in internal wrangles, some of which have ended in courts, which the report says weakens them further.
Leadership disagreements and intra-party democracy problems continue to rock the former governing PP, the second biggest opposition in Parliament after MCP.
Chakwera’s changes in the MCP’s policy making body—the national executive committee (NEC)—have brought discontent within the party’s rank and file and could derail rebuilding and repositioning efforts ahead of 2019.
For PP, it is the leadership wrangles and intolerance to dissenting views in the party that is tearing the former ruling grouping.
PP has so far expelled its Zomba Ntonya parliamentarian Patrick Makina and Mzimba Hora MP Christopher Ngwira. Makina is accused of not working in the interest of the party whereas Ngwira was booted out for demanding leadership change.
But the DPP itself is not one big happy family either. The party has worked hard to suppress and sideline its Mulanje South legislator Bon Kalindo largely for demanding more government action against albino killings and abductions.
Apparently, the party brass believes that Kalindo is trying to portray the administration as doing too little on the albino issue.
Under pressure, Kalindo recently resigned as the party’s deputy publicity secretary, but remains a member of its politburo.
Moreover, the rising cost of living, worsening food shortages and a general erosion of confidence in government pose threats to Mutharika retaining his job on the ballot.
Unfortunately for the opposition, contends the EIU, they do not seem to take advantage of the pocket book issues that Malawians are struggling with and cast themselves as the next best governing alternative. Instead, they are engrossed in internal squabbles, according to the report, which also describes the opposition as “equally unpopular.”
Reacting to the report, acting president and leader of PP in Parliament Uladi Mussa said the prediction was wrong and DPP was slowly losing its popularity.
He said: “It is a wrong prediction with these decisions they are reducing the number of would be voters and I don’t think people are happy with this. This is a wrong prediction.”
On his part, Chakwera, who is leader of opposition in Parliament, said: “It’s precisely meant to look at the people and if anyone is interested in following what has been happening even in contributions of members of Parliament, they know it is the opposition that is striking and has points and has a direction and that kind of focus that says we can take this country this way.
“But because the narrative is being controlled [in terms of] who want people to say what they want to hear, that is why they are portraying this.”