Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM—two major political parties in the nine-member Tonse Alliance administration—are in a silent fight for grassroots supremacy, inside sources from both camps have confirmed to Nation on Sunday.
The sources disclosed that since one cannot tell what the future holds, the leaders think it is imperative to strengthen their respective parties by employing several strategies, including coaxing more members into their folds.
Some senior MCP and UTM members confided in Nation on Sunday, saying the jostling for supremacy was real as evidenced by the current ‘war of words’ on social media involving some known operatives of the two parties trying to outshine each other.
While arguing that such conflicts are inevitable in electoral alliances, political analysts and conflict resolution experts have blamed the development on lack of structures or working committees for the Tonse Alliance.
MCP sources said the party was taking no chances but to spread its wings across the nation, having failed to penetrate other regions for years since it was removed from government through the May 1994 General Elections.
Now back in power with support from its alliance partners following the court-sanctioned June 23 Fresh Presidential Election, the party is stretching its scope for future political leverage.
MCP’s stronghold is the Central Region while UTM, whose presidential candidate Saulos Chilima got over 1.1 million votes in the annulled 2019 presidential election against MCP candidate Lazarus Chakwera’s 1.7 million, enjoys noticeable support in all the regions but more so in the South and North.
“We know we’ve been regarded as a political party with influence only in the Central Region. The MCP top brass unanimously agreed that there is need to have our presence felt nationwide.
“This is the reason you are seeing our national campaign director Moses Kunkuyu organising meetings with chiefs in the Southern Region which is predominantly a Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] stronghold,” said one MCP source.
Another source added it was considered a milestone to have a legislator from the South join their party and that was the reason senior party members are deployed to welcome such members of Parliament (MPs).
She said MCP was aware once it strengthens its presence in the Southern and Northern regions, it will be a hard nut to crack even when it goes alone in the next election in the event that the alliance collapses.
“Every party wants to be strong. We’re not in competition with any of our alliance partners, but we cannot ignore the fact that as a stand-alone political party, we need a strong political base. That’s why we’ll even go to places where our alliance partners have a stronger political foothold than us, and that should not be viewed as conflict,” she stated.
A UTM Party source said his party was mirroring itself as a contemporary political grouping that has to set standards high for any other party to match and was prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure it remains relevant and serve Malawians better.
“You can see to achieve that, we require a strong political base, so regardless of the electoral alliance we entered into with other political parties, we mind our strength, and that is why we have continued to build a strong foundation.
“Numbers matter and our executive is aware of this that for our survival and relevance, we need more people and more legislators on our side. You’ll notice that while we’re in government, senior members, including those in Cabinet, have taken it upon themselves to make UTM a strong party,” said the source.
Happy Kayuni, a political scientist from Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, observed electoral alliances world over are not always smooth and such kind of issues and frictions are normal when in power.
However, he said people must not forget that the Tonse Alliance came about because of the June 23 Fresh Presidential Election. As such, the focus was at the presidency level and not grassroots; hence, each party will continue fighting for its unique identity and agenda.
Kayuni proposed the formation of a working committee that should periodically be reporting to the parties’ leadership to avoid mistrust.
“So, if there is no solid bridge between the two parties that is why ultimately we are seeing each party fighting for its agenda. That is normal but still they need to come together and to ensure the fight for survival should not undermine their collaboration.
“That working committee will be beneficial for both parties to ensure the alliance is also understood of how best it can be appreciated at grassroots level while not undermining their overall goal,” said Kayuni.
He also urged President Chakwera and Chilima to focus on the bigger agenda of national development, what is common to their parties and demonstrate their working together so that “any debate at grassroots level is unlikely going to affect the alliance or translate into anything negative for the alliance because both parties stand a great deal to benefit from it”.
“So it’s only those that are politically shortsighted who will focus on who is most influential. If they are serious about the long-term survival of their political parties and about being in power in the long-term, they should focus on collaborating and strengthening the alliance rather than competing because they both have their areas of weaknesses and strengths,” said Kayuni.
On his part, Master Dicks Mfune, another political scientist from Chancellor College, who is also a conflict resolution specialist and global peace ambassador, also said such things are expected but they need to be handled carefully.
“The issue of superiority and popularity is expected when you just form a government. Either of the party wants to dominate on the ground but they need to handle it professionally.
“One way is by putting in place mechanisms for conflicts resolution and that could be by way of a working committee to manage sticky issues at that level before they get out of hand,” he said.
Commenting on the issue political commentator Humphreys Mvula said the development will ultimately create a toxic relationship if not properly managed because the alliance may not exist harmoniously.
“The problem is that both parties are currently busy posturing and thinking about the 2025 presidential election. That’s dangerous and will eventually affect the stability of the alliance.
“The challenge is that the alliance is not about the two political parties but the structures for them to remain solid and together. If the ongoing trend is left unchecked then it’s a recipe for disaster. They need to create a structure to coordinate the alliance so that everyone is on one page,” observed Mvula.
But MCP spokesperson Maurice Munthali said people need to be reminded that although MCP and UTM are in the Tonse Alliance administration, they remain independent entities.
He said: “The Tonse Alliance was not established to kill our independent political parties, which means every party, to a larger extent, will continue operating independently by pursuing their political agenda away from the national agenda being pursued as Tonse Alliance. We have to compete on the ground and that is healthy for our democracy.
“So, this is not fighting. We all want to demonstrate that we are established and have the numbers. Our manifestos, constitutions and agendas remain intact. So, we can only say let people desist from castigating each other and fueling unnecessary differences or tension. Let people embrace any sort of competition that is fair, democratic and joyful.”
UTM secretary general Patricia Kaliati in an interview yesterday said when the nine parties were entering into the electoral alliance, they had their political parties as standalone entities.
She said the parties are riding on a principle that all parties are equal and there is no party that is going to swallow another.
Kaliati downplayed the conflict that may arise as each party tries to build a strong political base, adding party officials in the Tonse Alliance are free to go on the ground and undertake activities to strengthen their parties.
“We don’t need a working committee [as political analysts suggest], for what role? As government, we remain focused to achieve what we promised Malawians. On the other hand, as politicians, we would continue to do our work to ensure our party is strong,” Kaliati, a member of Cabinet in the Tonse Alliance administration, said.