They say you have to be in it to win it, right? All the leading political parties in Malawi have fielded a presidential candidate for the 20th May 2014 elections. There are no major political party alliances or coalitions as it was the case in the last two elections. This could either mean that confidence levels are high among contesting political parties or they consider the incumbent, Joyce Banda a lightweight. It could even be a combination of both factors.
From whatever angle one is looking at it, these elections will provide some interesting analysis. Its campaign so far has centred so much on unproven facts and myths that can only be proven after the votes have counted. Only then will know whether this youth dominated nation bought into the idea of youth leadership. It is only then that we will establish if Joyce Banda’s gender is enough to attract female votes. We will not know until then whether this country’s Christian masses will vote for the man of the cloth, pastor Lazarus Chakwera. It is not until votes are cast that merit and demerits of the fears of the first-ever tripartite elections will be determined.
Until then, we can do better to concentrate on proven facts. No incumbent president has ever lost an election in Malawi. In fact, Zambia is the only country in SADC region where a sitting president has ever lost an election, since majority of the countries did away with dictators in the early to mid 1990s. But then this time Malawi has a sitting president that has never led any political party into elections.
If we are to concentrate on the four leading presidential candidates only, then it is a race of novices because none of them has ever led a political party into an election before. If experience mattered in this race, then James Nyondo would have been well ahead of the leading candidates: Joyce Banda, Peter Mutharika, Atupele Muluzi and Lazarus Chakwera (not in any particular order). Unfortunately for Nyondo, experience does not count, especially in Malawi. Resources do, not even policies, resources and money are everything when it comes to elections in this country. You may call it the best democracy money can buy.
There is no coincidence that MCP, UDF, DPP and PP, the four leading political parties, have all governed Malawi at one point or another. Governing means being in control of the public purse and of course these folks treat themselves and their political parties to the contents of the public purse. This is why cashgate is turning into a case of who has looted more among these political parties. It is a race of bandits, so to say. All these political parties have established themselves on looted resources. That is why you cannot ignore Mark Katsonga’s observation that zipani za ku Malawi zimakulira ku Sanjika.
When President Joyce Banda took an oath on 7th April 2012, most of the orange cars on our streets belonged to private citizens. Nearly two years in power, a high number of orange vehicles belong to Joyce Banda’s People’s Party. Is it Katsonga’s Sanjika effect? And the puzzling thing is it that Malawians are not having this discussion. I am an undecided voter. I will probably decide who to vote for on the polling day if not right in the voting both. And trust me, I am not alone. I know many Malawians who share my sentiments.
Is it not scandalous that after two years of Joyce Banda’s high profile scandals, looting and theft of state resources on her watch PP is still has a shouting chance of winning elections? Make no mistake; this is a damning verdict on opposition parties who are clearly failing to offer options people are looking for. A recent survey by Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) has established that while cashgate is an electoral issue, food security, hunger, economic stabilisation and fertilizer subsidies are some of the key factors that most Malawians are interest in and will definitely effect 2014 elections.
Opposition parties fail to see that these areas do not only reflect people’s interest and needs but it also highlights government failures. Here ordinary people are saying: look, the current administration has failed in these areas. Why not capitalise on it? A party in power is always on the back foot when seeking re-election because they can be decampaigned on their present failures such as the above.
The opposition has rightly picked on PP on cashgate but cashgate needs a human face if it is to become a big electoral issue like the above highlighted areas. Opposition could do well to discuss cashgate in terms of lives lost due to lack of medicine etc. This would resonate more with ordinary Malawi than emphasis on billions of Kwachas that majority of ordinary Malawians will struggle understanding its true quantitative value. Quoting billions of Kwachas to people leaving bellow poverty line does not make sense.
Having three leading opposition parties with almost equal strength and busy fighting amongst themselves is PP’s advantage. Opposition will divide anti PP vote, and it does not help when all those opposition are saying the same thing. It is even a bigger advantage for PP that Malawi uses the shambolic first-past-the-post voting system. Come 21st May 2014, Malawians could have a state president with less than 30% of the national vote. As of today, two months and a week before the polling day, that president looks like Joyce Banda. If Joyce Banda loses elections, it will be suicide, not murder. She will have herself to blame. It will not be down to the strength of opposition.