Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) loss in five of six hotly-contested constituencies and wards in Tuesday’s by-elections is a vote of no confidence to the governing party which needs soul-searching to remain relevant to Malawians.
Political commentators said this after the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) was officially declared the winner in all three parliamentary and two out of three local government by-elections in Central and Southern regions.
The victorious MCP members of Parliament are Sosten Gwengwe of Lilongwe Msozi North, Ulemu Msungama (Lilongwe City South East) and Lawrence Sitolo (Nsanje Lalanje) while in the local government poll, Kingwell Zikaola emerged winner in Mtsiriza Ward with Thom Litchowa taking the Ndirande Makata Ward in Blantyre.
DPP’s only winner was Nicholas Josiya who claimed Mayani North Ward in Dedza.
Mzuzu-based socio-political commentator Emily Mkamanga said people now want change as evidenced by the ushering into office of the three MCP parliamentarians and two councillors.
“This also paints a picture that during 2019 elections, it might be almost the same. So, parties have to work very hard to make sure that they achieve what people want,” she said.
Mkamanga also said MCP, which has its major support base in the Central Region, must be buoyed by the victory because it now has an MP and a councillor in what was generally deemed as an impregnable DPP stronghold.
Commenting on the voter apathy that characterised the by-elections where only 16 percent of the registered voters cast their vote, Mkamanga said in some of the constituencies and wards, some would-be voters may have feared resurgence of violence during voting, adding that peaceful polls will, in future, encourage more people to vote in the 2019 elections.
On his part, political scientist Augustine Magolowondo observed that the results of the by-elections are a clear political barometer and give an impression of where the two parties stand on a political scale, especially during the short time to the 2019 Tripartite Elections.
He described DPP’s loss as a big one for a party that is in power and a significant victory for MCP, adding that both parties have a lot of homework to do to either regain the political space, in the case of DPP, or to consolidate the gains, in the case of MCP.
Said Magolowondo: “DPP’s victory in Dedza Mayani Ward and the winning of MCP in Nsanje-Lalanje also tell us that the so-called party strongholds are being shaken, making the upcoming tripartite elections in 2019 probably the most competitive to watch.”
Chancellor College political analyst Mustafa Hussein said the results should act as a reality check for the governing party as they reflect the reality that is on the ground.
He said it is time that the DPP government re-strategises on the way forward if it wants to win the elections come 2019.
Said Hussein: “If DPP will not live by its promises that it made in 2014 and fix things, the probability is high that the party will lose to MCP in the 2019 elections.”
While cautioning MCP not to relax but rather work hard, he said what transpired during the campaign period when President Peter Mutharika joined the campaign trail meant a big deal, hence the need for DPP to pull up its socks.
A political commentator Humphrey Mvula said in a telephone interview the results show that there is now a sense of maturity in the country’s democracy.
He said the bringing into MCP of the Lower Shire business tycoon Sidik Mia is paying dividends having led the party to raise a victorious candidate in the Southern Region. Mvula said the win will also make people in MCP fully accept Mia.
Commenting on the outcome, MCP deputy secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka said the results laid a strong foundation for the party to win in the next tripartite elections.
He said: “This also clearly shows that the 2014 elections were marred by irregularities and we are also hopeful of emerging victorious in the next elections in 2019.”
By-elections in Lilongwe City South East were held after a Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal ordered a re-run after noting that there were irregularities in the parliamentary race on May 20 2014, whereas in the other five areas, vacancies were created following deaths of office holders.
In an earlier interview with Nation Online prior to the elections, Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI) director Rafiq Hajat, said the elections were a popularity test for the two major parties, MCP and DPP.
Minister of Information, Communication and Telecommunication Nicholas Dausi, who is also government spokesperson, said that the party will do a postmortem and try to put the pieces together.
He said: “In life, it is not how many times you have fallen down [that matters], but the realisation that you have fallen down and you must wake up. It is part of life, you know. In politics, every day is like a new year.”
Meanwhile, embattled MCP secretary general Gustave Kaliwo, who has openly challenged MCP president Lazarus Chakwera for his leadership style, says he hopes that internal squabbles in the party will be resolved soon as the party prepares for the 2019 polls.
Kaliwo said it is important that everyone in the party is given space to air views as this is no time for complacency.
“I am happy and excited by the triumph of MCP. I wholeheartedly congratulate the candidates and all who contributed to the victory. The winners in all this are our democracy and Malawians. As for internal issues, nothing is ever settled until it is settled right,” he said.