In a dramatic turn of events, former president Joyce Banda yesterday withdrew from the presidential race in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections and instead endorsed Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
Her decision means the number of presidential hopefuls confirmed by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has gone down to eight. From the gender perspective, Banda’s withdrawal has reduced to zero the number of female presidential aspirants.
Banda and People’s Party’s (PP) U-turn comes weeks after the outfit unceremoniously pulled out from a three-day electoral partnership with UTM Party and others early February this year.
But briefing journalists at Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe yesterday, both PP secretary general Ibrahim Matola and his MCP counterpart Eisenhower Mkaka insisted the MCP-PP partnership will work.
But the duo fell short of providing details and said the leaders of the two parties would hold a joint news conference next week to provide the same.
Reading a written statement, Matola stated that PP national executive committee (NEC) was responsible for the decision, adding that JB, as Banda is widely known by her initials, had been negotiating a possible partnership with Chakwera since 2015, a year after she was voted out in the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections. Then, Banda was in self-imposed exile in the United States.
Reads the statement: “This decision was reached after having Malawi’s greater and common good. Malawi is bigger than an individual. As such, we all have to set aside individual aspirations and embrace the greater and common good.”
Matola said PP was serious this time because “this was the first time the party was officially announcing an alliance”.
Mkaka, on his part, said in an interview the development will boost the party’s chances of winning the presidential elections. He also said MCP is confident the agreement will last.
He said: “Dr Joyce Banda has supporters who will be supporting Dr Lazarus Chakwera. This will increase our chances of winning the elections… This is serious business. To show the seriousness of the business, she has withdrawn from the elections.”
But the two parties said they were still working out how the partnership will affect parliamentary elections in constituencies where they are both fielding candidates.
Mkaka was accompanied by several MCP officials, including director of elections Sosten Gwengwe who, ironically, was Banda’s running mate in the pair’s failed presidential bid in 2014.
Matola’s PP entourage included Banda’s son Roy Kachale, who is also Zomba Malosa legislator, and PP vice-president (Eastern Region), NEC member Noah Chimpeni and Banda’s aide Andekuche Chanthunya.
Banda, then the country’s estranged vice-president, had ascended to the presidency in April 2012 in line with constitutional order after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika.
However, she finished third in the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections with 1 056 236 votes against 1 904 399 for the winner Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and 1 455 880 for the runner-up Chakwera. Atupele Muluzi of United Democratic Front (UDF) was fourth with 717 224 votes.
In a survey to gauge perceptions ahead of the elections conducted by Zomba-based Institute of Public Opinion and Research (Ipor) between August and September 2018, respondents gave DPP 33 percent chance of winning, MCP was given 31 percent and UTM, which was barely two months old at the time received 17 percent while PP got a six percent rating. But with the partnership, a combined MCP and PP brings, on paper, about 37 percent.
Political analysts have since hailed the MCP-PP relationship, saying it gives MCP, which governed the country in a one-party dictatorship from 1964 to 1994, more chances of winning in the election while disadvantaging other political parties that will go solo.
Governance expert Henry Chingaipe said UTM, as it is, has been left in the cold as it cannot join forces with the governing DPP.
DPP, the analyst believes, can also team up with its political bedfellow in Parliament, UDF but noted such a combination may not have the same impact as the one of MCP and PP.
The MCP and PP partnership also takes along the country’s former vice-president Khumbo Kachali and his Freedom Party (FP). Chingaipe said the country’s oldest party has found itself a winning formula, much as it was already strong before the pact.
He said: “With the MCP and PP alliance working out, and if the DPP-UDF alliance does not work out, then the threat is even bigger to DPP. But I think if the DPP-UDF alliance works out, then it would be a countervailing cushion to reduce the threat that comes with the MCP-PP alliance.
“I don’t think an alliance between DPP and UTM can work out, I also don’t think the UDF-UTM can work out. With MCP and PP forging an alliance, it leaves UTM in the cold as I don’t think UTM could come as a third party to join an alliance of MCP and PP.”
While Chilima has mounted a strong campaign for his presidential bid with UTM, Chingaipe said it is difficult to deduce the type of electorate that would vote for the party as it is new in elections.
On his part, Ernest Thindwa, a political scientist at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, also hailed the MCP-PP partnership, saying the MCP needs to ensure that it seals the deal as it works more to its advantage.
He said: “These elections are likely to be very close, the margin of victory will be very slim and any extra vote to any party is significant. If MCP and PP were to support one candidate, then MCP will have struck a good deal because they have the potential to win the election and if they can acquire extra vote, that will be significant.”
Thindwa is on record as having warned that any party which touts itself to be strong enough to go it alone will be taking a risky path.
About 6.59 million voters are expected to vote this year, with over half of the eligible voters being youths and women.
In January this year, JB reiterated her wish for opposition parties to form an electoral alliance to unseat DPP.