It is a constitutional obligation that Malawians vote in the May 2014 Tripartite Elections to elect the president, members of Parliament and councillors of their choice. Indeed, the next few months will be exciting times on the political calendar of Malawi, with politics taking twists and turns, as politicians move from one political grouping to another; and the common occurrence in Malawi party politics of electoral alliances or coalitions.
In Malawi, examples of these electoral alliances or coalition agreements include the 1994 United Democratic Front (UDF) electoral alliance with some parties such as the United Front for Multiparty Democracy (UFMD) among others. In 1999, there was the alliance between the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) led by Gwanda Chakuamba and Alliance for Democracy (Aford) led by the late Chakufwa Chihana. In 2004, we also witnessed a coalition of opposition political parties under the umbrella of M’gwirizano Coalition which was led by Gwanda Chakuamba as its presidential candidate. The most recent one being the less fancied and last minute agreement by the UDF under the chairmanship of Bakili Muluzi to support MCP presidential candidate John Tembo in 2009.
An analysis of these alliances or coalition agreements in Malawi will reveal some common elements, which are: (1) that most of these electoral alliances had a short-term focus; unstable and hurried arrangements to meet electoral ambition goals of its leaders. The agreements had no clear basis to take policy views and integrate it as an electoral pact for voters to be informed of what these alliances or coalition stance on policy matters was. (2) the processes involved were a top-down approach, mainly serving the interest of the leaders than the grass roots party supporters, with limited consultation. (3) The issues that dominated, to some extent causing conflict within political parties being presidential candidate and running mate issues, with a clear example being the John Tembo/Chakufwa Chihana running mate issues in the 1999 MCP/Aford alliance, and the presidential candidate issue in the M’gwirizano Coalition of opposition parties in 2004, which then led to MCP going it alone, led by John Tembo.
One thing that can be stated is that no conflicts existed with regard to issues of policy. The question that then comes to mind is: Is this because most of the leaders in Malawi political parties care less of what they intend to do when in power when it comes to uplifting the country and its people? Or is it because there is no real debate to formulate and integrate various policies of individual parties into one manifesto?
It is important to note that most of these parties fielded own candidates for parliamentarians, which raises the question of whether real unity exists in these alliances or coalitions. The alliance or coalition agreements take an individualistic approach, with the sole purpose of winning the presidency.
I do not regard myself as a political engineer as others have described themselves within certain leadership circles, however, I believe it is high time that the leadership in different political parties took our electoral process seriously. There is also need to raise the bar of leadership quality to ensure that as voters, we are not fed dummies. Although still young, 20 years of democracy are enough to provide a space to prove that we are now better thinkers.
It is, therefore, imperative that any suggestions for an electoral alliance or coalitions in Malawi are done in good faith to help citizens make good choices. There is need to ensure that the objectives are not narrow-minded but rather broad, to drive the implementation of an economic development agenda.
As citizens of Malawi, surely, our country deserves better. We need that moral renewal of how government is run and not just about a change of individuals occupying the high office in the land through shallow alliances or coalitions agreements.
—The author is chief economist of a multinational organisation based in South Africa, writing in his personal capacity.