Nine months into the Tonse Alliance administration, Vice-President Saulos Chilima has publicly spoken on what he termed the “concerning disunity” among the alliance partners.
Chilima leads UTM Party, a key partner of the Tonse Alliance along with Malawi Congress Party (MCP) led by President Lazarus Chakwera. The two parties, alongside seven other political parties, teamed up to oust the former governing Democratic Progressive Party in the June 23 2020 Fresh Presidential Election.
But speaking after inspecting some development projects in Karonga on Tuesday, the Vice-President called for unity among Tonse partners, saying it is time for the administration to focus on developing the country and not waste time politicking.
Addressing a gathering at the Boma, Chilima knelt down, symbolically pleading with UTM Party supporters and those of other parties in the alliance to put aside their differences and let government deliver what it promised.
He said: “The reason I am kneeling down is to ask that we should remain united. Let us not forget where we are coming from. We were together [as Tonse Alliance] during the June 23, 2020 campaign and we are together now. No one should get big-headed. Malawi is one, and we are one people.
“Let us remain united. This is not time for squabbles or political campaigns. This is the time to deliver our promises to the people, including providing loans and jobs and reducing the prices of passports. I want to ask that the alliance should move on united.”
During celebrations for the success of the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) last month, Chakwera also said the June 23, 2020 Fresh Presidential Election victory was not the work of one person.
He said: “This was not the work of one person. No one is bigger or better than the rest. It was a united effort. That is why if we remain united, we will achieve great things.”
The President, however, admitted when he appeared before Parliament on March 17 that the alliance was taking time to implement some of its campaign promises because they had not been agreed upon by the partners.
Both Chakwera and Chilima have been elusive on the terms of the agreement for the alliance. They have also been mum on the emerging cracks.
However, Chilima condemned UTM Party followers when they were involved in political violence in Karonga during the March 30 by-elections campaign when they allegedly stoned a vehicle belonging to MCP officials.
Both parties have also turned down assertions that there are cracks within the alliance despite their supporters publicly insulting each other and praising their respective leaders, mostly on social media.
UTM Party spokesperson Frank Mwenifumbo in an interview yesterday said all was well in the party, but they were concerned with the continued bickering on social media.
He said: “On social media, the bickering is rampant, and I have reached out twice to the MCP camp on the need for us to meet so that we show solidarity to each other, drum up support for our leaders and foster a strong relationship amongst ourselves.
“I did that in recognition that on social media, there are uncontrolled messages flying over, disparaging our two leaders from both camps, and I am still waiting for the MCP to respond to my call.”
Mwenifumbo said he first reached out to MCP in February, and again last week through publicity secretary the Reverend Maurice Munthali, but was yet to be responded.
But the UTM spokesperson insisted that Chilima’s speech was not aimed at showing that the alliance is experiencing tension.
Said Mwenifumbo: “The Vice-President was addressing his constituents of UTM Party, asking that we should join him in maturing the alliance that people voted for. He was simply telling us not to look down on any alliance partner, but forge a unity of purpose to develop the country.”
Munthali could not be reached for comment yesterday.
But when contacted yesterday, MCP secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka insisted all was well in the party.
“The statement from the Vice-President has context, and I think it wouldn’t be right for me to comment on that. As far as I know, all is well,” he said.
Mkaka, who is also Minister of Foreign Affairs, declined to take further questions when asked why MCP and UTM Party supporters keep fighting during by-elections and how they are resolving such issues.
But in an earlier interview with Times Television, he said “there is no entity called Tonse Alliance”.
Mkaka told the TV: “We went to the polls on MCP ticket, leading the Tonse Alliance, but within the alliance, parties have maintained their independence in terms of operations and existence. So, I wanted to make it clear that it should not be surprising to see that we have featured different candidates during elections because there is no entity called Tonse Alliance.
“This was an administrative arrangement which we thought was ideal at that particular time for Malawi to move forward. But, of course, we have to be careful so that this should not derail development, because instead of fulfilling the promise, we may waste time building parties.”
Meanwhile, political and governance experts have said the continuing rift within Tonse Alliance shows a lack of intra-alliance democracy and misplaced priorities, warning if MCP and UTM Party leaders do not review their agreement, the alliance may be short-lived.
University of Malawi’s Chancellor College political and administrative studies professor Happy Kayuni said in an interview the party supporters have not been guided on how to handle each other during campaigns.
He said: “What has complicated this alliance is that the leadership did not take time to explain their rank and file on how they should relate with each other. Already, when MCP thinks it is on the driving seat, it forgets the 50 percent +1 rule, it is very rare to get that in Malawi.
“If you are so pompous and you think you can be alone, it may be a wrong calculation. What MCP needs is to assume the role of a senior partner who unites the rest, and respect will not be earned by numbers but by how it behaves towards others.”
On his part, political commentator Humphreys Mvula beliefs the rift is a result of poor inter-alliance dialogue, and the absence of a clear definition of the alliance.
“When starting the alliance, they did not put together an elaborate memorandum to guide the alliance. If they did, they have not operationalised it in a manner that possibly they are regularly meeting to sort out small issues.
“Apart from the leadership caucus that the memorandum should have contained, they don’t have structures at different levels. They also have unhealthy, undemocratic and unbecoming competition for an alliance. Fielding candidates wherever they want is unreasonable, and will create greater problems. You can’t go to a constituency, quarrel, and expect to sit on one table in Cabinet. “
Mvula, who said he does not see the alliance surviving until 2025 if the bickering continues, warned that such squabbles could affect development initiatives.
The Tonse administration, led by Chakwera and Chilima, dislodged the immediate-past governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the June 23 2020 Fresh Presidential Election.
MEC declared DPP leader Peter Mutharika winner of the presidential race in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections with 1 940 709 votes or 38.57 percent.