Major political parties in the country are not forthcoming on precise dates of conducting their respective primary elections to identify candidates for parliamentary and Local Government elections, having initially announced they would start this month.
The governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) announced they would start holding their primaries this month.
But in an apparent twist of events, the two parties have since deferred the elections to unspecified dates.
Other parties that already conducted their elective national conventions such as United Democratic Front (UDF) and Alliance for Democracy (Aford) are yet to indicate when they will have their primaries. The People’s Party (PP) is yet to hold its convention and has also not said anything on primaries.
While the MCP cited re-strategising and planning as reasons for deferring the exercise, the DPP claims it has pushed the task forward to give aspirants ample time to campaign.
“We have not postponed, we have just given them [aspiring candidates] two weeks to campaign and thereafter, when everything is set, the secretariat will come up with dates to start the primaries,” said DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi.
He said the party did not want to rush before giving aspirants an opportunity to market themselves to the grassroots and excel in the primaries to guarantee the party’s triumph in the 2019 Tripartite Elections.
But a DPP national executive committee (NEC) insider confided in The Nation that the party was deliberately employing delaying tactics because it does not want its losing aspirants to join other parties, in particular, the United Transformation Movement (UTM) which is led by Vice-President Saulos Chilima who ditched DPP.
On their part, MCP director of campaign Moses Kunkuyu said his party felt compelled to postpone the primaries to re-strategise and plan properly.
The party had initially announced it would start the exercise on August 20 but it has now postponed it to November after the conclusion of the voter registration exercise.
Said Kunkuyu: “Indeed I can confirm that our director of elections has advised that the exercise has been postponed. As a party, we have to put our eyes and ears on the ground and plan by putting in place procedures to help hold successful polls for the benefit of both MCP and the people we want to represent.
“So, for that reason, we felt it was necessary to push the primaries forward. As for the new dates, our secretariat will make a formal announcement through the office of the director of elections.”
UDF spokesperson Ken Ndanga said the issue of primaries would be discussed at the party’s NEC meeting to be held any day, whose agenda is partly to discuss a proposal to have a secret ballot during the primaries.
UTM interim spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga said the political grouping is still building its structures, after which they will start planning for their convention and primary elections.
But in an interview, political commentator Humphreys Mvula commended the parties for pushing their primaries forward.
He said: “The parties were in a hurry to hold the primaries and that meant closing the doors for others to stand on their ticket. But we have to know our campaign process is very expensive and to run a nine-month campaign is not easy. It requires a solid candidate with solid ideas and a fat pocket to sustain that.”
Mvula said if the primaries were held in August, the time would be too long before the tripartite elections, adding three months is good enough for a candidate to campaign.
“Otherwise parties would destroy their own candidates because opponents would analyse the candidates’ weaknesses and capitalise on them,” he said.
The former politician also observed that ahead of the 2019 polls, parties have been careless by allowing aspirants to go in their structures and campaign without putting some control measures, a situation he said had put incumbent parliamentarians and councillors under pressure.
In a separate interview, Chancellor College political analyst Mustapha Hussein also said there was no problem with the postponement as long as the delays are meant for adequate consultations and preparations.
“However, further delays may disadvantage the parties in the sense that, probably, the party that starts early may attract other leaders at local level and, therefore, leave out those with less leadership skills,” he said.
Through primary elections, political parties identify contestants to represent them in parliamentary and Local Government elections. In past elections, some disgruntled losing aspirants have opted to contest as independent candidates and, in some cases, made it over the preferred party representatives.