October 17 warning shots

Hon Folks, in the October 17 by-elections there were three parliamentary seats and three wards up for grabs.  There’s no denying APM was aware the critical mass would regard the polls as a litmus test for the popularity of his government.

As such, he left no stone unturned in ensuring that his DPP win the by-elections and put to shame its detractors. MBC did its best to report on the run-up campaign as if only DPP was the legitimate contestant.  Even the police reportedly demanded that MCP flag be removed when APM was chopper-flown to Nsanje Lalanje to campaign for DPP parliamentary candidate.

The helicopter, which the President used for the campaign has hardly been used since APM assumed office in 2014. It must have been chosen for its impact in attracting dust and crowds. Cronies followed by road equally in style, travelling in a long motorcade, the kind you see when the President himself is travelling by road.

Intended take home message: DPP, boma (government)! The rest are mere chaff. At least in Lilongwe APM touched a raw nerve when he equated voting for a DPP candidates with voting for development.

But the voters, tormented by growing abject poverty, incessant blackouts, rampant corruption, political violence, impunity, favouritism, widening gap between the rich and the poor, increasing number of food-insecure people, etc. went to the polls and embraced the underdog, poor Lazarus Chakwera whose  MCP scooped all the three parliamentary seats and two wards. It was a landslide victory!

Not only that, the gates to the populous South, which proved impenetrable to MCP in 2014, were flung open and MCP bagged both the Blantyre Ndirande Makata Ward and the Nsanje Lalanje seat.   DPP only managed to win the Dedza Mayani North ward.

The good thing out of all this isn’t MCP’s victory, or DPP’s loss. APM and DPP are still in government whereas Chakwera and MCP remain in opposition.  The win is to the electorate for effectively using to their advantage the enormous powers they have through the ballot over their elected leaders.

After the October 17 by-elections, it has become clear, I hope, to the elected leaders not to take people for granted. With a mere stroke on the ballot paper, the people can bring up or down a President, an MP or a councillor.

APM who garnered a measly 36 percent of the votes in the 2014 polls and only became President thanks to the controversial first-past-the-post system, has done very little over the years to consolidate and build on his base.

He is defensive, indifferent and does not act with speed to address pertinent issues of concern to the public, often opting to speak through cronies most of whom only spew arrogance in empathy-devoid statements. He is, in the parlance of some old Greek Philosopher, third removed from the people.

APM should lead by example in frugality in these hard times, elevate merit over favouritism, hit hard and mercilessly on high level corruption without harbouring sacred cows, fight impunity and harness transparency and accountability to public sector reforms. Afrobarometer survey reports of the past 12 months do capture some specific areas where people feel the APM government has lost direction. APM and DPP should either pull up the socks or lose elections in 2019.

How about Chakwera, what does all this mean to him and the MCP he leads? Through the by-elections, MCP now has a foothold in the South, making it a truly national party. But that’s not an end in itself,  Chakwera must articulate what he stands for, his vision for Malawi.

Right now, the only thing that is clear is that MCP is riding on the unpopularity of DPP and the moribund status of PP and UDF.

Unless Chakwera can fix the broken bones of his MCP and show Malawians a different kind of leadership, his chances of winning an election by universal suffrage will largely depend on whether APM will continue pursuing unpopular policies that will yield enough protest votes in the 2019 presidential race.

Chakwera needs to cut his own niche.

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