…50 + 1 could make them loose in 2025 elections
…Chakwera, Mutharika mistake in delaying conventions
..youth voters not interested in two parties
The ruling Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and its predecessor the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are stuck in old politics. They believe that Malawians will vote for them, especially their leaders, whom they cheat and lie to, that they are the best thing ever to have happened to Malawi.
Reality on the ground is different, both President Lazarus Chakwera and former President Professor Peter Mutharika, do not command personal loyalty as their party predecessor’s John Tembo and Bingu wa Mutharika respectively.
President Bakili Muluzi, President Joyce Banda and John Tembo had personal loyalists that would defend them outright, protect them and owe their existence to them, that is before money became the currency of political love. The Late President Bingu wa Mutharika, bought love and the moment he was pronounced dead, many deserted the DPP.
Many that cheer President Lazarus Chakwera and President Mutharika, primarily do it out of economic survival than the love of principals, that behind their back, they support, finance, and propel rebellions in the parties to endear themselves to the leaders, and fleece them more of their resources.
The rise of conflict in MCP and DPP
The MCP and DPP are suffering from the same “dear leader syndrome” where a few people surround the party leader and dictate the course of what is supposed to be a democratic party, with the majority making decision.
Once the MCP and DPP got into power, people with direct access the President and those who believe themselves to have contributed more than others (despite each having just one vote) started consolidating their influence- appointing friends, family, and loyalists into plum government and parastatal positions.
While President Mutharika did not appoint anyone directly related to him into Cabinet or Senior Government posts, President Chakwera took his family- from his children, direct relatives, friends, and families in most of his appointments. Some close to him made appointments to buy his favour.
In case of the DPP, those that were influential or were able to deploy memos and whisper in the president ears used their proximity to get their friends, loyalists and in other cases families to grab power posts, opportunities and even contracts.
Soon the Presidents handlers started fighting among themselves.
The DPP conflict saw Kondwani Nankhumwa falling from President Mutharikas protégé who was given all the best cabinet portfolios like Foreign Affairs, Local Government and Agriculture to become his rival after the party lost its power.
The Investigator Magazine has been reliably informed that as part of trying to deal with each other, senior party officials have reported each other’s “sins and deals” to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) so they inihilate each other.
MCP officials too are busy reporting each other either to the media or ACB to stop contracts they believe their rival is “eating from”
The initial signal from President Mutharika that he will not run again, saw two more senior figures- Bright Msaka (Vice President for the East) and Joseph Mwanamvenkha (Treasurer General) join the presidential race and political newcomers Dr Dalitso Kabambe, Paul Gadama and briefly Prophet David Mbewe.
Each of the presidential hopefuls developed their own camps, which went on each other’s throats until party gurus close to Mutharika, fondly known as “adadi” by his supporters decided the party needed him.
Mwanamvekha, Msaka and Kabambe, more seen as conservative side of the party- with discipline to tow to the leader’s decision decided to play low, abide by party suspension from campaigning and later made a commitment not to run against Mutharika, a politically smart decision, to remain within the party president’s supporters.
Nankhumwa on the other hand, seen as a rebellious and prodigal son, is hanging by court orders, as the other camp are determined that he should leave the stage before convention. His latest win is to nullify the DPP Executive decision not to hold an elective convention.
Nankhumwa told The Investigator Magazine, “nothing has changed, I will run to win at the party convention.” The DPP conflict will be solved by a convention- only if the two sides that have emerged – Pro Mutharika and Pro Nankhumwa can even agree who will be delegates and vote at the convention.
While the main opposition DPP is still searching for its soul, the MCP is hanging on because it is in Government, but the party according to our findings is deeply fractured into six camps- that include President Lazarus Chakwera’s son Nick loyalists or close associates such as Vitumbiko Mumba, Secretary to the President and Cabinet Colleen Zamba and her band of loyalists and Ministers who feel owe their appointment to her including most of lady Ministers. She has been accused of using former Kasungu Southwest MP Alex Major to attack party officials. Major confirmed that he is close Zamba “as a staunch MCP politician from the time she used to assist the party when she was at UNDP in 2012” but denied being used by her.
The Secretary General Einshower Mkaka and a loose alliance of old guards including Regional Chairman and Regional Chairlady for the Centre. The cabinet team led by Director of Youth Richard Chimwendo Banda who is said to be a close ally of Speaker Catherine NyaHara Gotani who is alleged to have saved him from being fired twice from the cabinet, Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo and several Ministers.
The fifth camp is that of neutrals that primarily are loyal and answer to President Chakwera who includes Gender Minister Jean Sendeza, Monica Chiyang’anamuno, Lands Minister Gumba, Homeland Security Minister Ken Zikhale Ng’oma, Water Minister Abida Mia, Defence Minister Harry Mkandawire, Trade Minister Sosten Gwengwe, Finance Minister Simplex Chithyola, Information Minister Moses Kunkuyu and Agriculture Minister Sam Kawale.
The last group is largely those that are working underground thought to be fired ministers and President Chakwera’s assistants who have teamed up with young Turks to surprise cabinet ministers during the convention.
No strong challenger for Chakwera and Mutharika at conventions
The Investigator Magazine monthly political polls indicate that within party structures, both President Chakwera and President Mutharika will win their party posts, with Chakwera assured of 99% percent while his predecessor could attain 75% depending on the impact Nankhumwa loyalists if he is allowed to stand.
The two leaders however face different threat of underground movements that almost all presidential hopefuls in both MCP and DPP are undertaking to build their base and teams ready to take over from the incumbents when they finally retire.
President Chakwera has already run twice under the MCP constution but as a sitting President he will be allowed to be a presidential torch bearer as any changes with 23 months to elections date, would be disastrous for the party.
DPP President Mutharika on the other hand has a free run, except the Nankhumwa challenge whose impact can only be measured towards and during the convention. A quick convention could have solved Mutharika’s headaches within the party to elect a team that will back him as he seeks to return to State House.
However, voters, according to our polls are mixed on Chakwera and Mutharika being on the ballot in 2025.
President Chakwera could suffer shuttering defeat
President Chakwera, a man who laughed and enjoyed being a President is no longer himself as reality is slowly hitting that he could lose the 2025 general elections. The video clips of young people in Lilongwe booing his convoy should be depressing to the party officials, especially that tell him he is popular.
The current political polling shows a President very weak on the economy, seen largely as insensitive to the plight of many as he continues to travel local and international, nepotistic and the increasing food prices are pushing many to protest against his administration.
Frequent fuel shortages and rising price see Chakwera’s 2025 bid in urban areas getting only 15 percent, and in rural Southern and Eastern regions he is rated around 12 percent. In the Central Region the President’s turf, his ratings have gone as low as 23 percent in areas like Lobi in Dedza.
He is unpopular among farming communities due to the chaos in fertiliser subsidy and scandals hitting his cabinet that has been making dubious fertiliser deals. The recent announcement that beneficiaries of fertiliser subsidy will be reduced this year will affect his popularity further as every dropped farmer is unlikely to vote for him.
“He is facing a shuttering defeat. He might loose in some districts in central region like Salima, Nkhotakota and parts of Lilongwe, Dedza and Kasungu. Food prices and fertiliser will be the biggest issues for his core base,” said our analyst who analysed our polling data for August 2023.
In the Northern Region, apart from fertiliser and cost of living, two roads the Chiweta Road and Nyika Road need to be done in the coming 23 months or the President will only poll 10 percent across Mzimba, Rumphi, Karonga and Chitipa.
“He needs to stop travelling, especially when there is fuel crisis. It sends wrong messages that he does not care. He needs to be speaking what his administration is doing to address specific programme. He keeps speaking of progress when farmers, school leavers, those that pay school fees and urban dwellers are struggling. He does not inspire hope,” said another analyst from Catholic University.
The President has lost respect and support even among religious groups with the Catholic Church being critical of the economic malaise and his flip flop on cabinet would damage further the uncertainty donors have with his administration.
“He comes across as clueless and someone who has no strategic vision of how to address challenges. The Finance Ministry appointment exposed him further especially as the IMF Board is meeting this November. The IMF loves certainty and there could be delay because of the Presidents lack of understanding of how the system works,” said a diplomat in Lilongwe.
The President handling of scandals and emergence of powerful personalities close to him such as SPC Zamba and MACRA DG Daud Suleiman shows that he is not in control of the situation, and he cannot reign in open challenge of cabinet ministers.
“We have seen a parastatal head challenge a cabinet minister. Cabinets operate on cabinet collectiveness. The Minister of Energy is overruled by SPC. The Minister of Information is overruled by MACRA DG. The open challenge to a cabinet minister, means a challenge to the entire cabinet whose chair is the President. This is simply unheard of,” said a former minister in Bingu wa Mutharikas administration, who added that the weakness shown by the President undermines him more than his failures as everyone now considers him a “puppet president.”
While President Chakwera is unlikely to amass 50 + 1 votes, the same challenge faces DPP leader Professor Mutharika, whose silence after loosing power could make him see his return to power a big challenge.
Professor Mutharika’s challenge to 50 + 1
Professor Mutharika’s outings which are as rare as he was even at State House are different from President Chakwera’s. People do line up to see him, some cry for his return and his supporters dramatize every outing.
He needs a special mission to charm the party’s grassroots. Just don’t call it a leadership bid, but a forgiveness tour- where he seeks to tell voters he won’t preside over an arrogant DPP, and where voters confess their “sin” of chasing him in places like Ndirande and Nsundwe.
President Mutharika’s first task is to get and project a united pre-election party which is suffering image crisis, failing to offer constructive opposition and its grassroots structure left out in the cold.
With our opinion poll still suggesting DPP to be the leading party likely to emerge first during elections across all the four political regions, it is who will lead the DPP that will matter to voters’ majority of whom disappointed with Tonse Alliance but not eager enough to embrace the DPP.
The Party conference will be a litmus test, like in the past of grassroots support for wannabe leaders — and with a general election expected in September 2025, this could be the main platform that would make or break the DPP chances.
Mutharika leads with 42 percent vote share in the Southern Region, 34 percent in the Eastern Region and is second to Vice President Saulos Chilima (38 percent) in the North with 21 percent against Chakwera’s average of 11 percent in the region. His lowest score is in Central Region with 18 percent.
The former President unpopularity in urban is mainly to corruption perceptions, while in the North is mainly seen as detached and focused on a single tribe. Most urban young people feel they do not connect with Mutharika and his strongest base in rural areas mention fertiliser and food security as his strength.
“To an extent he presents as also not being in charge of the party, which is the same challenge Chakwera has. People who love the DPP have remained DPP and many who got excited in the North and Centre about K4,000 bag of fertiliser promise by Chakwera and Chilima and ended paying K30,000 for subsidy and K60,000 for normal feel betrayed. Many indicate they will vote DPP without hesitation,” said our analyst.
President Mutharika who sounded optimistic that the DPP will soon forge united front has better chances of doing well at a national vote across all ages, but the voters will be wary if he is seemed to be controlled by invisible hand or people who surround him have more control. He needs to show he is in charge.
“He can get 37 percent of vote in a three-way vote race, what he needs to wrestle power from MCP is 50 +1. Chakwera is somewhere around 22 percent nationally. Unfortunately for second position are undecided or those that will not vote getting 27 percent. Most supporters of Vice President belong to the undecided group with less than 10 percent, mainly in the North saying they will vote for him outrightly.
Most voters believe the DPP in its current state of civil war is not ready to govern and are still searching for a leader who they can vote outside the Tonse Alliance and DPP.
Delayed Party Conventions are a missed opportunity
Both the DPP and MCP have been here before. President Chakwera and President Mutharika drew huge crowds during rallies at the height of 2014 election. The new kid on the block Vice President Chilima took the mantle of largest attended rallies in 2019. Less than a year later, Chakwera and Chilima replaced Mutharikas DPP after combining their votes.
“You’re going to have three or four people basically trying to set themselves in post Mutharika or Chakwera party era after elections. People are not really focused on the 2025 elections that is for Mutharika and Chakwera to lose. SKC can even wait another election where he will be the only formidable candidate if the two main parties break in a battle for succession,” one former minister advises.
An adviser to Chakwera admitted they had been busy inserting names into their party hierarchy including soliciting that the President’s speeches reflect well on some of the ministers as a signal that they could succeed him.
For Mutharika and Chakwera, without the party conventions, they remain weak and still working with teams that could be rejected at the convention and force them work with a team they are not familiar with.
But much of the action is likely to be happening below the radar. Party convention is an “important moment” to gauge the support of influential people within the party who will be acceptable to the larger structure of the party, one former adviser to a previous DPP and MCP leadership candidate said.
“The delays of conventions for leaders who are expected to sail through was not well thought strategy. Everyone knows Chakwera and Mutharika will be on the ballot, what they need now is a popular team inside and outside the party, end factions and focus on getting grassroots vote. Who ever initiated the delay is benefitting from squabbles and likely not to win at a party convention and using the leader to keep power,” said a political strategist who worked with President Bakili Muluzi and President Joyce Banda.
He said President Muluzi who allowed factions to develop in the UDF prior to 2003 convention ended up with a very weak team. He ended up with the whole executive loosing key posts to newcomers who could have influenced Bingu to ditch the party immediately Muluzi left State House.
2025 elections are final for President Chakwera and Prof. Mutharika
It is now confirmed Chakwera and Mutharika will face each other in 2025 and this is their final go at the presidency, and they would have each completed one term in office. Legally after winning either of them can’t have another, at party level each of them after losing they can’t continue as party leaders.
Both now do not have 50 + 1 required to claim the coveted seat and with almost one third of voters not decided or intending to stay away, a third force could surprise the two parties with large seats in Parliament by being either number two or three.
“In such case where a third strong candidate emerges or comes second, the two parties will have to negotiate with that third party or group to win second round. Unfortunately, the way President Chakwera and MCP has treated Chilima and the same way President Mutharika and DPP treated the then vice president, nobody will accept to play second fiddle if they get number two slot. The two leaders should accept that the possibility of both the MCP and DPP losing is there in the current state,” said a civil society advocate working with a group of influential Malawians to form a new political alliance.
The reality is that the two leaders might have benefited more from an early convention to sort factions as the fight for running mate, who will be the likely successor to the leader at the end of second term will make the delayed convention nasty and likely to break the party as losers could leave post-convention which will happen only days before voters registration starts on September 16, 2024.
“The DPP new executive will have two months to registration and MCP less than a month. Many of the old guards are seen as the problem in the two parties. The delay in electing new teams to manage the electoral process of the party, could backfire on Chakwera and Mutharika,” advises another experienced politician.
Unfortunately, very unlikely will the leaders try to have conventions early and for now, they do not seem to have any strategy to end the factions and civil war within their parties.
The only political solution to civil war is a party convention, but for the leaders whose position is guaranteed, they listened to interested officials who now have put them in a fix, perpetuate civil war whose end result will likely be tears.