It is almost four years since People’s Party (PP) founder Joyce Banda lost the presidency to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Peter Mutharika in May 2014 Tripartite Elections.
The humiliating defeat in which Banda came third not only pushed the country’s first female president out of the State House. She left the country. Ever since, JB, as she is fondly called by her followers, has remained in a ‘self-imposed’ exile that has left a worsening power crisis in the orange party she founded after being banished from DPP.
Chancellor College political analyst Ernest Thindwa decries the power vacuum as a preventable crisis.
The party has been sailing in stormy waters since her departure 43 months ago—with her chosen executive committee left threadbare by frequent defections to DPP and some of its legislators are salivating like hungry dogs at the prospect of an alliance with the ruling party.
Uladi Mussa, the PP interim leader who was sacked in October, calls the blurry DPP-PP alliance a reunion of two parties born of one mother—United Democratic Front (UDF)
Apart from the divisive alliance and power struggles that led to a massive exodus—with some senior leaders either leaving willingly or facing the chop from the party—some PP lawmakers, who opted to take sides with DPP, defied their party’s stand in Parliament to support the Electoral Reforms Bills.
They rejected the laws that government tabled under duress when Public Affairs Committee (PAC) threatened to lead Malawians in nationwide protests.
On its endless slump since the 2014 defeat, the former ruling party has lost key figures in the name of Northern Region provincial governor Christopher Mzomera Ngwira, vice-president (North) Harry Mkandawire, Shire Valley giant Sidik Mia, secretary general Paul Maulidi, former minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Halima Daudi and treasurer general Brown Mpinganjira.
It is a mass exodus that has left the party weak and haemorrhaging.
But there was yet another climax to the drama in PP when Mussa, one of its faithful remnants who anchored the party in the absence of JB, had his patience worn out and could not keep waiting for Banda’s uncertain return. He demanded for a convention where he would challenge the self-exiled leader in the delayed race to the top.
Had he known that his calls would prompt the party’s makeshift politburo to fire him from his position, he would have not dared to go that lane.
And after the party pruned him to a mere member, Mussa and other legislators are ‘seemingly’ flirting with the idea of going to bed with DPP, according to his statements and behaviour.
And when Mutharika met some 16 PP legislators at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe last month, the split in the party became more pronounced with some legislators claiming they had formed an alliance with DPP.
However, PP spokesperson Noah Chimpeni and other leaders reject the claims.
“There is no alliance between us and them. We were called to State House because Kondwani Nankhumwa, leader of government in Parliament, told us the President wanted an alliance with us. There were 16 of us,” he says.
When they reached the presidential palace, Nankhumwa reportedly introduced them to Mutharika who expressed desire to be in a political alliance with PP because they share the same history as PP came out of DPP.
But Chimpeni said they advised the President it would be better if DPP called PP president Joyce Banda to finalise the deal.
“I also suggested we consult our members first, but PP members rejected the alliance with DPP,” he says.
But he might just be living in denial as some members of his party have shown that they are not entirely opposed to being allies of DPP.
What with allegations that the party is too broke to pay rentals for its offices and maintain vehicles that kept them on the wheels when they were in power?
The financial crisis may drive some MPs away although Chimpeni says the party is not broke.
“If it’s about the head office that was closed, our president [Banda] has paid the rentals.”
He dismisses Mussa’s talk of homecoming, saying he speaks of the claimed alliance with DPP in his personal capacity.
Concurring, PP secretary general Ibrahim Matola says the owners of the party are the grassroot supporters who have rebuffed the alliance.
“We have not discussed with the DPP on the alliance. We are just hearing this in the newspapers but there haven’t been meetings between the two executives,” he says.
While Chimpeni and Matola are busy quashing the alliance, the conduct of some PP MPs during the last meeting of Parliament raises eyebrows.
There was public expectation that opposition political parties would gang up to support Electoral Reforms Bills, but PP lawmakers surprised many when some of them either voted ‘no’ or abstained from the proposed laws, including one requiring the President to be elected by over half of the votes cast.
Yet others opted to be absent during the voting stage, just when every vote counts in the game of numbers.
This has led to speculation that PP connived with the DPP to frustrate the reforms.
Thindwa argues that PP has been ‘swallowed’ by the ruling party “which is desperate to have full control of the entire Southern and Eastern regions”.
According to the political analyst, DPP has taken advantage of the lack of leadership in PP.
“The longer Joyce Banda stays outside the country, the more the party crawls to its death-bed,” he says.
He reckons DPP is being strategic.
“They do not want to have the Southern Region vote split and that is why they roped in UDF. I would like to speculate here that UDF is unlikely to field a candidate in 2019 because DPP would not want the Southern Region vote split. They would really like to have both UDF and PP to rally behind them,” Thindwa reasons.
Ralph Mhone reckons it was strange for some lawmakers to go against the party’s stand when the proposed electoral reforms were tabled in Parliament.
However, he stressed that the party is not divided.
Chimpeni thinks MPs who supported DPP in Parliament want favours from the ruling party.
PP chief whip Ralph Jooma resigned immediately after the “rebels vote”, citing personal reasons.
At the same time, Mussa attracted rare headlines by generously praising Mutharika for successfully implementing the mass registration campaign which he once branded a DPP ploy to rig elections.
The flip-flops and shakeups witnessed in PP last year speak of a party wobbling on a perilous path with no leader to lean on—a downward path of no return.