If history is anything to go by, the future of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) does not look so bright. Records prove that, in Malawi, once a party is no longer in government it tends to lose its grip on the masses eventually leading to its downfall.
After the first General Elections in 1994, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) was unanimously voted out of power. Some members had earlier left to start their own parties, with the dawn of multiparty and others had left to join emerging parties such as the United Democratic Front (UDF). One of the people who jumped from MCP to UDF ship is Hetherwick Ntaba.
For some time, the party remained strong in some parts of the country, especially the Central Region. But with the future looking bleak, members continued to leave the party up until the DPP era.
Similarly, in 2005, when former president Bingu wa Mutharika formed DPP after ditching UDF, he took with him some of the partyâ€™s loyalists.
Ironic to the current situation, among the first to jump ship were then member of Parliament (MP) for Zomba Malosa Joyce Banda [now country President]; Mzimba South West MP Khumbo Kachali and Chiradzulu East MP Henry Mussa. In DPP, they were given top positions, which eventually saw Banda taking up the vice-president position.
With time, others fromÂ UDF followed suit and slowly but surely the once mighty UDF was left with nothing but succession wrangles which mar it to dateâ€”weakening the party further.
With the sudden death of Mutharika on April 5 this year, one cannot help but fear for the future of DPP.
Barely a day after the official announcement of the death of Mutharika, some of DPPâ€™s â€˜loyalâ€™ members began denouncing their allegiance to the party, claiming that their constituencies had asked them to work with the government of the day.
But before this tragedy struck, cracks in DPP had started emerging with the late Mutharikaâ€™s appointment of his younger brother Peter Mutharika to be the partyâ€™s torch-bearer in the 2014 general election.
Some confident members voiced out their concerns over this and were fired, where as others left freely.
Perhaps fear was created in the others and they were forced to stay. It is because of this that some quarters have argued that the defectors have seen the death of Mutharika as an opportunity for them to express their lack of support for Peter.
But the question is: Are these defections bound to kill DPP in the long run?
Political scientist Blessings Chinsinga says DPP is defiantly heading for its end just like parties before have done once out of government. Chinsinga explains that defections are just part of the reasons parties tend to die after assuming opposition roles.
He says the main reason that weakens parties is lack of finances.
â€œPolitical parties in Malawi have failed to differentiate between State and party finances. Hence, the moment a party is no longer in government, it becomes poor and does not have the resources to run its affairs,â€ says Chinsinga.
A study titled Sensitivities and Benefits of Paid-up Party Membership in Malawi which Chinsinga completed recently, reveals that there is no law in the country which looks at party financing, forcing political parties to take advantage of the gaps.
â€œThe thing is they have no money. When a party is in power, it takes advantage of government resources. So, the trouble comes in when they get out of power. But certainly there is need of a law.
â€œThis is because the parties that are in opposition are disadvantaged,â€ adds Chinsinga.
He says one of the recommendations in the study is that there is a serious need for parties to become innovative and think of how best they can finance their activities even after they are no longer in power.
Chinsinga adds that because of lack of financial power in parties, members of Parliament and other politicians look at their political future and choose to stick with a party that promises rewards.
Unfortunately, this has contributed to the weakening of the countryâ€™s opposition. No wonder Malawians have complained of lack of vibrancy and meaningful debate in Parliament, since most MPs tend to belong to the ruling party and therefore, are bent on pleasing the government of the day and not necessarily their constituents.
â€œDefections also play a role in weakening the parties, but they emanate from lack of money in the parties from where they are coming from. Our parties are not based on ideologies, but rather loyalty to an individual. So, when one member decides to leave a party, he takes with him his loyalties,â€ he says.
But is there hope for the future?
â€œ[President] Joyce Banda has an opportunity to create a party that is clean and better. However, it will depend on her to clearly differentiate party activities and State activities, as well as build a party that is not tied to her as an individual,â€ says Chinsinga.
Sharing Chinsingaâ€™s sentiments is governance and development specialist Henry Chingaipe who cites an example of DPP, saying parties in power are held together because of their access to resources.
He argues that although cracks in DPP emerged sometime back, some members remained in the party because they did not want to part ways with the goodies that come with it.
â€œThere were glaring cracks in the party. The one thing that appeared to hold the party together was the fact that it was a party incharge of the government and, therefore, with a lot of spoils to distribute among the loyal and faithful and also the capacity to mete out punishments to the disloyal. Now the centre does not hold anymore.
â€œDPP is out of government and they will soon realise that the financial, political and social costs of opposition politics are particularly high. For a party born and bred within the trappings of power, survival on the other side of the political divide is going to be an uphill task.â€
But is it possible for political parties to find other means of financing their parties.
To this, Chinsinga adds that his study reveals thatÂ people are willing to embrace the notion of buying party membership cards to help raise funds for their parties.
Certainly, with creativity and will power, parties can develop many ways of raising funds for financing their party activities.