It is becoming clear that losing the May 2014 tripartite elections is the hardest thing the former ruling People’s Party (PP) has had to grapple with in its less than five years of existence.
Just in 2012, the New Vision of Uganda described PP leader Joyce Banda, who had just become Malawi’s first female president, courtesy of death, as “The woman with nine lives”. It told the story of how Banda had set out as a woman activist in the late 1980s, setting a gender equality crusade in a male-dominated society, and her way to State House, among other things.
But that was before Banda and her PP were to face a political litmus test two years later— the May 2014 tripartite elections.
One year seven months after being floored in the tripartite elections, Banda and her beloved PP do not only seem to have the nine lives stuffed out of them; they seem to be looking for a life outside the country, and outside the politics of elections, respectively.
On one hand, Banda is busy looking for a life away from the country she loves so much that she cannot do without while, on the other hand, the PP is looking for a life – within Malawi, of course— outside the politics of Local Government elections.
Otherwise, how do we explain the party’s conspicuous absence in, say, the December 23 Local Government bye-elections in Mtope Ward in Mchinji West Constituency and Ngala Ward in Lilongwe Msozi North Constituency? The PP only contested in the Parliamentary elections in Banda’s home-district of Zomba, where Asma Mponda represented the party’s aspirations.
The party’s spokesperson, Ken Msonda, made an appearance on Times Television’s Breakfast Live programme nine days before the bye-elections in Mchinji, Zomba and Lilongwe, and hinted that the PP would have nothing to do with the bye-elections and, therefore, Malawians. According to Msonda, elections in Malawi are not worth it anymore because “The Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) selects people” instead of administering the elections and letting the winner be.
The PP participation in the Parliamentary election in Zomba was, therefore, somehow soothing, but not comforting because the party still shunned the Local Government bye-elections in Mchinji and Lilongwe.
Whatever the case, the Mec went ahead with the Local Government bye-elections without the PP and, from the results— voter apathy and gender imbalances aside— democracy is at work. Among other not-so-surprising results, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) did the expected by winning the Mtope Ward bye-election. Its candidate, Auleriano Kalemba, floored the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s candidate on the way to the District Council.
It was a similar story in Ngala Ward, where MCP’s Master Rodgers Chazama bought his way to the Lilongwe District Council at the expense of DPP’s Regina Sululu.
Again, as expected, the DPP showed that the MCP is still has a long way to catching up with it in the Eastern Region as its Parliamentary candidate, Mark Michael Botomani, beat five other candidates –Stephen Alexious Chikwapula, independent; Dyson R. Chimwala, independent; Asma W. Mponda, PP; Brazio Namakhuwa, MCP; and Felistas Mpando Sumani, independent— on his way to Parliament.
In all fairness, we do not expect the PP to win each and every election, but its decision to select which battles to fight in, and which ones to shun may not give it a fair view of its political clout.
But its absence in the Local Government bye-elections may be a replica of what is happening at the top level of the party: Physical absence is creating a yawning gap that may make it difficult for party members to catch up with their top leadership while, at the same time, the party is making it difficult for itself in terms of catching up with the electorate in elections like this week’s bye-elections.