Elections have consequences, and at the conclusion of the 2014 elections, all contestants that are not Peter Mutharika, fell short on their bid to win the coveted fresh presidential term of the beautiful republic of Malawi.
But while the DPP celebrates – rightfully so – for being back after a brief hiatus, it is also time for some serious introspection amongst the losing contestants to figure why things turned out the way they did and what perhaps should have been done to win the presidency.
In my view, Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party in particular, needs the most self-introspecting because he arrived onto the scene less stewed in political grime than the other top candidates. Being a newcomer to an often baggage-laden list of been-there-done-that candidates, Chakwera had an upper hand being a novice. He was free from the mistruths and corrupt tendencies Malawians have so often come to expect from the politicians of the day and he brought hope to most as he was the most refreshing candidate Malawi has seen in a long time, hence the inevitable question: Why did Chakwera not win the 2014 elections to form the next government?
Chakwera deserves credit for putting himself out as a fresh alternative to the ho-hum flock of perennial candidates whose names have become synonymous to everything bad about Malawi politics. During the past two years, for example, Malawi’s president, who came to power by accident, spent considerable time doing stuff that made the electorate question the soundness of her nation-building agenda.
It was a two year experiment that discovered that Joyce Banda is not cut from presidential material as she showed a clear lack of understanding of the national goals and interests that would be best-suited for Malawi. True, her presidency occurred under unusual circumstances but she initially had tremendous support from the nation as a whole. However, after a series of mind boggling missteps, the voters did not hesitate to express how they felt and showed her the door. Joyce Banda should never have been president in the first place! So, in an era when people mostly sit back and pretend, Chakwera spoke up and tried to make a difference. Though he failed to win the presidency, kudos are due to him for at least giving it a try.
But there is not much to admire about the way Chakwera run his election bid; his campaign lacked the bite it needed to resonate with the electorate and win support. With as sordid a career as Mutharika’s during his brother’s administration, Chakwera failed to harp on this larger-than-life character that exudes impressive credentials but seems indecisive when the going requires a tough stance and strong leadership. As a member of the cabinet during his brother’s administration, a furor was ignited when Bingu tried to tamper with the freedom of academic expression at the University of Malawi; Mutharika who was then the Education Minister went AWOL and appeared mum when he finally emerged from hiding. No leadership. The fact this happened on the turf of his portfolio was revealing of his true character and that’s despite his impressive education and the qualifications.
It all started soon after winning the nomination and Chakwera seemed to enter the race in full church-ministry-mode promising no negative campaigning. He took that a step further and decided not to bring up the numerous flubs Mutharika committed while he served in his brother’s administration. That mistake allowed Mutharika to carefully choreograph a cherry-picked list of achievements sidestepping all blunders that happened while he sat and watched. The atrocities that happened during Bingu’s administration are fair game and should have been used to remind voters of Mutharika’s true character versus the picture he painted of himself. How can we forget the 20 people that got killed while exercising their constitutional right to free speech and assembly during the July 20, 2011 demonstrations?
How can Chakwera not question Mutharika on the wisdom behind the unnecessary expulsion of the British High Commissioner? Actually, Mutharika was a high ranking cabinet member at the time, well versed in foreign affairs having studied international law but seemed in sync with his brother’s ill-advised decision to pick a fight with our benevolent partners. It can also be charged here due to his inaction while he served his brother, Mutharika was just as culpable of sending Malawi’s economy into a tailspin, the consequences of which we’re still paying for to date. Mutharika owns those not-so-pleasant episodes in just as much the same way as he wallows in the successes! And why Chakwera would choose not to remind the voters of the DPP’s sordid past, is beyond my comprehension!
The best way to run a campaign is to go all out or not go at all. It came as a big surprise to me, to learn that Chakwera and the MCP did not contest in 32 constituencies. What that means is that right off the bat is that Chakwera and the MCP abandoned some 16 percent of parliamentary seats, missing out on much needed representation and potential votes. How thoughtless!
Despite the errors that Chakwera made during the campaign, this to me is the one that most questions his qualities as a leader. It was a bonehead thing to do and it all falls on his lap. Concentrating the election campaign in only some parts of the country and not others and somehow expecting to pull off a win makes no sense. On this Chakwera is directly responsible for giving us the dreaded DPP and failing the MCP the best chance to return to power and sparing the country from possibly another Mutharika nightmare.
After the election loss, the Chakwera campaign and their sympathizers have not been shy from creating excuses; one excuse I heard oftentimes is that MCP lacked enough finances to field candidates in all constituencies. I sense a bit of hind-sight regret here in that Chakwera has been seen all throughout the campaign riding a Hummer which he claims was “a donation from well-wishers.” And hind-sight being 20-20 perhaps there’s a sense of realization that the MCP could have used a radio station instead of a plush ride, which I must say comes at quite a steeper price. It is baffling that amongst all the major political parties, only the MCP is not affiliated with a radio station to make their campaign exercise a more efficient.
Five years is not a long time and Chakwera may have the chance to do this exercise all over again. With a considerable number of seats in parliament, he may have a prominent role that will give us a keen eye on his leadership. Can Chakwera prove to the nation that he is worth the role of the president of Malawi? We shall live to see that for ourselves.
Elections have consequences!
*Mumbo is from Nthalire in Chitipa