With the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections fast approaching, opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is courting the former governing People’s Party (PP) and the new kid on the block, UTM, for a possible electoral partnership.
In a telephone interview yesterday, MCP publicity secretary the Reverend Maurice Munthali confirmed private meetings between MCP president Lazarus Chakwera—who is also leader of opposition in Parliament—and leaders of PP and UTM, respectively.
He said: “Discussions have been taking place where our president [Chakwera] has met leaders of some fellow opposition parties. I can single out PP and UTM, although the talks are yet to reach maturity stage.
“But, at this point, we cannot rule out a possible electoral partnership with one or both of these. As a party, we stand for nation-building and not individualistic attitudes.
“During our next National Executive Committee [NEC] meeting, we will discuss the matter further.”
The development comes barely two months after the country’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima—who is being promoted as UTM presidential candidate in the elections after ditching the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in June this year—met PP president and former head of State Joyce Banda in Zomba. However, Chilima’s office said the meeting with Banda was a courtesy call on the former president as the Vice-President was in Zomba to address a UTM rally.
PP spokesperson Ackson Kalaile Banda, in a separate interview yesterday, also confirmed about the talks, saying: “We have not been talking to MCP only… There are also other parties whom we are equally in talks with.
“What remains now is that our NEC should meet over the matter. This might happen soon as we have primary elections that require NEC’s guidance. Apart from that, our leader [Joyce Banda] is currently out of the country on a tour of Rwanda and Kenya and as soon as she returns, we will hit the ground.”
However, UTM interim spokesperson Joseph Chidanti-Malunga was reserved about the question when asked about the exclusive meetings.
He said: “Well, electoral alliances are always a possibility, but the question would be how to go about it. So, as a party, we cannot commit at this stage that this is the direction we are taking…”
If the alliance works out, it would be the first time for the MCP to go into an electoral alliance since the 2009 polls when it partnered the United Democratic Front (UDF) in an unsuccessful bid to run government.
In 1999, MCP teamed up with the Alliance for Democracy (Aford) in an unsuccessful bid to oust the then governing UDF.
During the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections, President Peter Mutharika—standing on the DPP ticket with Chilima as his running mate on the ballot paper—won with 1 904 99 votes, representing 36.4 percent while Chakwera polled 27.8 percent, having amassed 1 455 880. Banda, then an incumbent who had ascended to the presidency in line with constitutional order in April 2012, finished a distant third with 1 056 236 votes or 20.2 percent.
In terms of parliamentary representation, during the 2014 elections DPP won 50 seats, MCP 48, PP 26 and independents 52. Erstwhile governing UDF won 14 seats with Aford and the now-defunct Chipani Cha Pfuko getting one seat each.
But a recent survey conducted by the Zomba-based Institute of Public Opinion and Research (Ipor) between August and September this year has showed that DPP would have a slender edge over MCP if elections were held now while UTM—which was weeks old at the time of the survey—was rated third most popular ahead of next year’s elections.
Respondents to the study gave DPP 33 percent of the vote, MCP 31 percent and UTM 17 percent while PP got six percent rating.
Reacting to the potential MCP-UTM-PP electoral combination, political scientist Ernest Thindwa, who is based at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, doubted the possibility of MCP and UTM working together.
He said: “I can say that the potential of winning the election is big if MCP, PP and UTM work together in an alliance because their partnership can stop vote fragmentation if they decide to field one presidential candidate.
“However, this cannot be achieved easily on the part of MCP and UTM who, in my view, may have ego problems to surrender the presidential berth to each other. Those battles might even go all the way to ministerial positions. That would work to the advantage of the Democratic Progressive Party whose fortunes lie in the failure of a formidable opposition electoral alliance.”
But another political analyst, Humphrey Mvula, said the three parties could strike a partnership based on people’s expectations and common agenda.
He said: “It goes without saying that the three parties have a chance of their lives to take over government if they work together. The biggest advantage is that all of them seem to be driving a common agenda of trying to recover the economy, end corruption, job creation, improvement of farming and electricity, among others.
“The difference with the past elections is that currently the political discourse is that of change which all these parties are propagating. But I can say that what only stands in the way of this convergence of opinion is greed.”
UTM has also been in contact with Assembly for Democracy and Development (ADD), People’s Progressive Movement (PPM), Malawi Forum for Unity and Development (Mafunde), People’s Transformation Party (Petra), Aford, Malawi Democratic Party (MDP) Republican Party (RP) and the New Labour Party (NLP).