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Calculating their chances: Banda, Chakwera, Muluzi and Mutharika

The D-Day for Malawi is fast approaching as we head towards the May Polls. May 20 will mark the turning point in our struggle for political, social, economic emancipation towards a shared vision. It is now a foregone conclusion that one of the four top contenders (Joyce Banda, Lazarous Chakwera, Atupele Muluzi and Peter Mutharika) must win the election and form the next government.

Despite having real chances to win the election, the Banda, Chakwera, Muluzi and Mutharika campaign bids have strengths and weaknesses of different magnitudes and these will determine their chances to win the election. They are all pursuing different game plans and are all beaming with confidence to win the election. They are busy with political mathematics whose formulas are giving them an outright chance. But one must win and it must not come to us all as a surprise. The current political landscape surely favours one of the four candidates.  How are they standing?

THE BANDA CAMPAIGN: Dr Joyce Banda goes into the polls as a strong contender. She is swimming in the incumbency factor that facilitates easy access to the state media and campaign resources for mobility and campaign handouts to voters unlike the opposition parties. Due to this advantage, Banda has managed to rope in key campaign players from the opposition parties. The defectors are the real soldiers on the ground. She is running a vigorous campaign penetrating the remote areas as well.

However, the Banda campaign has some astounding setbacks that can easily frustrate her chances to win the election on a level playing field. The Banda campaign is the only one without a clear stronghold or political base like the other candidates. As a splinter group from DPP and with origins traced from the mother UDF, PP finds itself in a very hash contest to wrestle the Southern Region and make it its bedroom.

The resurgence within UDF and DPP out-competes PP from the region which is now split among them. For the May 20 polls, it is the Southern Region Vote that is more split than the opposition if tribal, religious, and regional trends of voting are not changing much. Perhaps the North would have become PP stronghold.

But dropping Khumbo Kachali a political heavyweight coupled with various political wrangles among candidates has weakened Banda’s support in the region and elsewhere. The region is now a go-zone for any of the contenders and anyone advancing palatable development agenda for the region will dominate. Despite being a woman candidate, Banda still faces challenges to convince more women to support her bid.

Many female voters are forming an opinion based on her performance while caretaker President and not on gender. In the minds of many Malawian voters, the handling of the “Cashgate” scandal has also affected Banda’s chances. Many feel the President has not handled the case well citing the hiding of names in the forensic audit report as the main issue. Shunning the presidential debates is one other drawback. Many feel Banda would have proved she is a fighter by taking the campaign to the debate roundtable and face off the others. But still, Banda can win the election if she comes SECOND in every political region with sizable margin. Winning a few district votes would also be a must.

THE CHAKWERA CAMPAIGN: Dr Lazarus Chakwera is the man to watch in this election. His coming on the political stage has brought some revolution with MCP and the entire nation. He enjoys an advantage of a clean record and appeals to many voters who may just be tired of recycled politicians and those having hope in new faces. He is enjoying support among the educated elite and urban voters in the civil service, civil society and the private sector. He also has a strong appeal to the Christian community. The Christian vote may just land him victory and give him a chance to implement a shared vision he is championing.

Chakwera has an additional advantage. Chakwera campaign has a clear stronghold in the Central Region which has traditionally supported MCP since the dawn of multiparty politics. Unlike the Sothern region that is split by the UDF, PP and DPP, the central region has fielded only one formidable force in Chakwera. All running mates drawn for the central region except DPP’s Chilima are failing to turn away MCP sympathisers from Chakwera. Chakwera’s choice of Richard Msowoya from the North may pay off greatly considering that the region may now be looking for a political platform after being left out by the other contenders. Chakwera may win all the districts in the Central region except one and may eat big into the North and canvas enough cushioning votes from the Eastern and Southern regions.

But Chakwera’s bid is not devoid of challenges. As a new political player, he has to market himself to many corners of the country in the shortest time possible. He has to deal with a handout approach to campaigning which is deeply rooted among politicians and some corners. Additionally, Chakwera campaign may be the least directly resourced although this is being compensated by an army of volunteers pushing the bid. If Chakwera manages to counter these challenges, fortifies his strongholds, invades new corners and strategically shares his agenda, he may just be the next Head of State come May 20.

THE MULUZI CAMPAIGN: Atupele Muluzi has really energised the campaign in the past few weeks. The Ung’onoung’ono and Dzuka Malawi slogans are appealing to the young people. He is expected to draw massive support from the Muslim and Yao communities in the lakeshore, Eastern and urban areas.

But his biggest blockade is the weakening of the UDF stronghold in the Southern Region. The region is now split among UDF, PP and DPP which share common

origins. Additionally, smaller splinter parties like PPM, New Labour Party, Tisinthe may still spoil some votes which can equally affect PP and DPP. Muluzi may also find it too hard to make inroads into the Central and Northern Region owing to recent political trends. The emergence of DPP provided an alternative to many supporters who started growing cold feet with UDF.

Muluzi can only win if he gets enough votes in the Eastern region and occupies SECOND and THIRD positions in the other regions outside the Eastern region. That’s a lot f work for sure since PP is also eying the same religion for a campaign base.  But he can do it and surprise everyone.

THE MUTHARIKA CAMPAIGN: Professor Peter Mutharika is another force to reckon with in the forthcoming elections. Ridding on the fame of his late brother Bingu on food security and infrastructure development, Mutharika is a real threat to the chances of Banda and Muluzi in particular. Just coming from a landslide victory in 2009, DPP can capitalise on the PP mistakes and push hard to win the election come May. His campaign is well resourced and enjoys a vibrant network across. Additionally, the DPP stronghold of Lomwe belt is highly populous and vocal.

However, the resurgence in UDF and PP breakaway are the major threats to DPP chances. DPP must first convincingly win the Southern Region and strive to come SECOND in other regions. But this is not easy. Most of its supporters since 2009 have migrated to other parties like MCP, PP and UDF. The political landscape has changed during the past two years during which DPP has been out of government.

Those vigilant with the campaign may be those frustrated by the PP government and are out to prove a point as in “deflating the tube”. The selection of a running mate may also have weakened the party’s chances. Ignoring party heavy weights like Dr Jean Kalilani and forsaking the North dubbed the home of DPP may also eat Mutharika chances. The revolution in MCP and UDF coupled with the breaking away of PP may prove too high mountains to cross for a win by DPP.

It can be seen that calculating their chances is not as easy as it may sound. One has to consider several factors that cannot just be quantified by imaginary figures. They all stand the chances of winning.

But who is standing the best chance now? Your guess is as good as mine!

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