Fresh off chalking victories in last November’s by-elections, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) yesterday rode its political momentum to control the capital Lilongwe when its candidate for mayor, Desmond Bikoko, won the contest.
The win draws more blood from the embattled Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which needed some sort of political victory to halt MCP’s momentum and change the narrative.
But that was not to be as Bikoko narrowly thumped the DPP-sponsored candidate Kwame Bandawe 15-14.
Former mayor Willie Chapondera, also a DPP member, was not nominated for the contest, but said he did not want to stand again for what he called political reasons.
It is the second political defeat in as many months for the ruling DPP, whose administration is struggling to defend itself against insinuations of graft in the procurement of maize from Zambia by State produce trader Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc).
The administration is also presiding over a tittering economy, wide spread food shortages and buckling public services on the back of slashed and erratic funding.
During the parliamentary and local government by-elections held on November 1 2016, MCP retained seats in Mchinji West Constituency, Bembeke Ward in Dedza and grabbed Kaliyeka Ward from DPP despite heavy campaign investments by the ruling party.
In those elections, DPP only retained seats in Sadzi Ward in Zomba and Bunda in Kasungu.
If the DPP fails to win the mayoral elections in Blantyre and Mzuzu slated for Monday, not only will it lose control over the country’s three largest cities, but the loss could also be a blow that would be hard to recover from.
Critics and the opposition could begin framing a broader general election message that DPP’s recent losses are a vote of no confidence in the Peter Mutharika administration.
MCP is already pushing that storyline, with its deputy secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka saying DPP’s string of losses proves that Malawians are losing confidence in the ruling party.
He said Bikoko’s victory during a secret vote in a chamber in which the DPP and MCP ordinarily command 16 and 15 votes respectively, proves that some disgruntled DPP councillors supported the MCP candidate and foiled Bandawe’s expected win.
But DPP spokesperson Francis Kasaila laughed off Mkaka’s assertions, saying he is drawing wrong conclusions from the contest.
Kasaila, who is Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said DPP has a solid following in the Central Region and nationally, declaring that the ruling party will easily win the 2019 general elections.
He said the civic elections were all about the person who would lead the council in developing the capital city. “It’s not about parties,” he stressed.
But it was clear that DPP took the elections seriously considering the presence of the party’s gurus such as presidential adviser Hetherwick Ntaba and acting party secretary general Francis Mphepo.
Mphepo even caused a scene by lashing out at councillor Kantondoli Nyirenda soon after Lilongwe City Council chief executive officer Moza Zeleza announced Bikoko as winner. Apparently, Mphepo was frustrated because of two null and void votes that may have cost his party the mayor’s parlour.
As he was leaving the venue of the vote, Mphepo poked Nyirenda, a DPP member, on his shoulder and said: “You have betrayed us, we will deal with you.”
The DPP could get consolation with the election of its councillor Juliana Kaduya who beat Christopher Namankhwa by 17 votes against 14.
Meanwhile, new Lilongwe City mayor Bikoko said in an interview yesterday that he will forgo a celebratory honeymoon.
Instead, said Bikoko, he will try to unite all councillors towards developing and transforming the capital city.
He said he has a vision on how to facilitate the transformation of Lilongwe, but he will let the council and stakeholders to and on what should be done. n