Bravo Chakwera, the pace-setter!

Hon Folks, commentators have described PP’s decision to pull out of the presidential race and throw its weight behind MCP’s candidate Lazarus Chakwera as a winning strategy. I can’t agree more.

PP gives Chakwera a foothold in Joyce Banda’s Eastern Region home-base and the North where she commands a substantial following. The endorsement of Chakwera’s candidature by former vice-president Khumbo Kachale, who still wields political clout in Mzimba, his home district, is an icing on the cake.

By choosing Sidik Mia as running mate, Chakwera already paved inroads into the South, particularly the Lower Shire districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje-Mia’s home base. The South has been a hard nut to crack for MCP since the advent of the multiparty era. Now there’s hope as was attested to by the party’s sterling performance in the 2017 by-elections.

If we were to mark areas on the map of Malawi where major presidential candidates have a clear strategic presence, Chakwera will in 2019 appear in all the political regions-South, East, Central and North.

Not that the other contestants are laggards. DPP has always had, as its competitive edge, the ability to add significant chips of votes from almost all areas outside its Lhomwe belt-Thyolo, Mulanje, Phalombe and Chiradzulu-stronghold. In fact, in 2014, while it reigned supreme in the South, including Blantyre City, it garnered the second highest number of votes in the presidential race in most of the areas outside its base. In 2009 DPP was the toast of the regions!

It’s also apparent that UTM’s model isn’t built around the concept of stronghold. The new kid on the block has become a force to reckon with by making its appeal cut across the regional and ethnic divide, wooing Malawians disgruntled by the status quo.

But as far as MCP is concerned, its appeal beyond its Central Region stronghold has been on steady decline virtually in the entire post-Kamuzu era. The turn-around was in October 2017 when the party whacked its rival DPP in by-elections by sweeping five out of six constituencies and wards, including Ndirande Makata ward and Nsanje Lalanje constituency in the South.  DPP only managed to win the Mayani North ward in Dedza!

Some analysts interpreted the outcome as a mark of protest against what was termed DPP’s arrogant leadership style. They cited as major mistakes APM’s decision to reverse the campaign pledge to reduce presidential powers, his lacklustre approach in the fight against corruption and his refusal to answer questions in Parliament as required by section 89(3)(c) and 89(4) of the Constitution.

But other analysts interpreted the victory as people’s vote of confidence in Lazurus Chakwera’s leadership of MCP. It appears Chakwera adapted the biblical teaching of servant leadership (John 13) and carefully harnessed it to his Chakwera Hi5, a five-point development plan which, he claims, is meant to make Malawi a land of opportunity for all and not for just a privileged few. 

Does it mean Chakwera will emerge victorious on May 21?

Not so fast. All the strategies MCP has deployed are a means to an end and not an end in themselves. The party must not sit on its laurels but work extra hard to sell itself to voters and avoid infighting that nearly rocked the boat when the Chakwera and Gustav Kaliwo (former secretary general) factions were at each other’s throat. More importantly, it shouldn’t just claim but be seen to practice democracy.

The call to make Malawi a land of opportunity for all and not just for a few is also what made Saulos Chilima of UTM an overnight sensation. The two (Chakwera and Chilima) also echo each other on servant leadership, fighting corruption and several, if not many, other governance points.

In fact, if it were not for the fact that atambala awiri salira mkhola limodzi (one party can’t have two leaders), the alliteration in the names Chilima and Chakwera spills over to much of what the two think about what’s good for Malawi going forward. In another life, they’d probably join forces and contest together as one.

That said, it’s also obvious that APM is aware of what many in the opposition think about his performance on governance. Who knows, he may pull a surprise in his second manifesto which, it appears, is by design tactfully delayed to come after MCP’s (already out) and UTM’s (expected out this weekend).

All there’s to say is that congratulations to Chakwera for making full use of first-mover-advantage principle. MCP, which he leads, is the first to make strategic partnerships in hitherto no-go areas, the first to declare running-mate and now the first to launch manifesto. But it’s not over until it’s over, they say.

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