Last week, I travelled to the remotest areas of Malawi. I need to define remote. The term remote does not necessarily denote depraved. Take Emfeni or Hoho, for example, in Mzimba about 150 kilometres (km) and 190 km, respectively, from Lilongwe. They are rural areas—by all standards. They are several kilometres away from what is conventionally regarded as urban (town, municipality or city) where residents enjoy public amenities and pay city rates.
But Hoho, for example, has electricity, thanks to the Malawi Rural Electrification Programme (Marep). There are electric maize mills. People no longer draw water from wells. There are communal taps—from a gravity-fed water piped system. The road from the M1 to Hoho is still ragged but it is just as bad as many in Ntandile in Lilongwe or even better than those in Ntopwa in Blantyre. Every part of Hoho has mobile phone service. You no longer have to climb a tree or stand on a hilly area to make a phone call.
But at both Hoho and Emfeni, as I found out from people I talked to, only two political parties—Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), are active. No United Transformation Movement (UTM).
I then went further up as far North as Songwe in Karonga. I found DPP and MCP. UTM has an office at Karonga boma but I did not find much of its presence there. Up North, the only place I can vouch for the strong presence of UTM, is Mzuzu City. But even in Mzuzu, my findings are that it has more following from the youth and not across all the demographics.
UTM is also strong in the other two cities—Lilongwe and Blantyre. I have no idea about how well the movement is doing in the Central and Southern Region rural districts. But I see a lot of complacency in UTM. They are presenting themselves as if they already have half of the eligible voters behind them. The fact that their rallies draw huge crowds almost everywhere they go should indeed encourage them, but it is not a good measure of the movement’s popularity or assurance that people will vote for their candidate.
What I also found from my weeklong sojourn in the North is that MCP is also too confident that come May 21 2019, it will form the next government. This is the same impression I got in Mvera, Dowa early September. Too much complacency. Agreed, they still have seven months to make inroads in the rural areas. But will other parties be sleeping during this time? Where this complacency is coming from I have no idea. I am also green about MCP’s level of support in other areas of the Central Region.
From what I read from the papers as reported by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) stringers, MCP is also doing well in the Lower Shire (Nsanje and Chikwawa) thanks to the strong campaign that the party’s vice-president Sidik Mia has mounted in the two districts.
But my warning to both MCP and UTM is that they could be shocked with the outcome of the 2019 Tripartite Elections if they are not careful.
By now it is quite clear that the 2019 elections will be a three-horse race—pitying candidates for the DPP, MCP and UTM. I am cognisant of the existence of other parties, namely, People’s Party (PP) and the United Democratic Front (UDF) and a plethora of other parties who want to support a candidate of one of the two parties (MCP and UTM). Save for UDF whose leanings are more towards DPP, the other parties seem more closely aligned to UTM. I have not heard much about them talking with MCP for a possible alliance.
In other words, it is DPP and UTM which seem more inclined towards an electoral alliance with one or more of the other parties. MCP, on the other hand, is very quiet. It looks like it has decided to go it alone. Given this scenario, I once again wish to warn MCP that it may be in for a shocker. The party should rethink its mathematics and the political permutations.
All that DPP needs is 30 percent of the votes in the South which it can easily amass, 20 in the Central Region and 20 or even 15 percent in the North then they are good.