With barely seven months to the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections, primary elections are underway, alliances are under negotiations and voter registration is almost complete. Our reporter AYAMI MKWANDA caught up with Catholic University political scientist Nandin Patel to discuss the fast-changing political climate so far.
How can you describe the political terrain with only seven months to the polls?
The political landscape looks even with the preparations being underway. Of course, with some hiccups here and there. But still there is competition among parties. This is shown by how the parties are faring and holding the primaries after having seen them hold conventions. Yet, not many parties opened up top positions for females, looking at how the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and United Democratic Front (UDF). It is not clear about United Transformation Movement (UTM). The question remains: Will it go to the polls as a political party or the presidential candidate will contest as independent? The Constitution is very clear that you have to register as a party to stand as the party’s presidential candidate. You cannot stand as a movement candidate. When UTM registers as a party, it can stand a chance to make alliances. But if you are a movement, how can you make an alliance with a party?
You have talked about alliances. Do you see them happening ahead of the elections?
Yes, I see parties forming alliances. Why not? It has happened in the past and it can happen again. Even after elections, alliances have happened in the National Assembly for the smooth running of government. In the past elections, except in 2009, it was not easy to get a 50-plus majority for the presidency. We are likely to have alliances to address this. Interestingly, Parliament did not pass the 50+ 1 requirement in the Electoral Reforms Bills. Therefore, we are likely to have a situation in which a president will be elected with less than 50 percent of the votes. This can as well happen in Parliament where we can have a ruling party with minority members of Parliament. Given that scenario, alliances will be required before or even after elections. Any combination is likely and you cannot rule out alliances.
What do you make of the ongoing primary elections in terms of intraparty democracy?
No. I think there is a lot of debate going on in terms of how parties are conducting primaries. For example, the system of voting for a candidate by queuing behind him or her. This is not a good system. Although it may show transparency, it can force people not to vote for their favourite candidate against a powerful party official. There have also been incidents of violence and lack of democracy within the parties in some instances. However, some parties have succeeded in identifying women as aspirants, which is good.
Some presidential candidates who contested in 2014 elections have pulled out of 2019 race. How good or bad is this?
That will be even better because last time there were far too many candidates. We need fewer candidates to avoid confusing the voter. It is better to understand them and to choose the right candidate, especially on the position of the presidency. You do not need too many candidates.
With the 50+1 recommendation rejected, do you see any presidential candidate amassing more than 50 percent of votes?
I don’t see that possibility. We need to campaign for electoral reforms. We should not take the electoral reforms as something that is finished. After the elections, when a new government is in place, officials should look at the reforms clearly again for a new debate.
What is your take on the missing voter registration kit intercepted in Mozambique, which has stirred debate and demands for Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson to resign?
The matter is worrisome. Let us not create panic by demanding the resignation of MEC chairperson. Let us see what MEC will say and how it can be rectified. The process is going on. Let us wait and see what the correct figures will be. But let us not disturb the process. That may be even more disastrous.