As 53 000 Malawians queue to vote for a legislator and two ward councillors today, analysts say the results will be a test for both the governing nine political-party Tonse Alliance and opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Local government by-elections are set for Chikwembere Ward in Blantyre North and Lalanje Ward in Nsanje Lalanje while in Nkhata Bay Central Constituency, there will be a fresh parliamentary vote following the court nullification of the May 21 2019 Parliamentary Election over irregularities.
Political analysts have described Nkhata Bay Central, where Tonse has rallied behind People’s Party (PP) candidate Ralph Mhone against DPP’s Symon Vuwa Kaunda whose victory was nullified by the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, as the barometer.
In separate interviews, the analysts said victory for the PP candidate will cement Tonse Alliance’s authority while his loss will be interpreted as a reflection of people’s growing anxiety over socio-economic challenges they are facing.
On the other hand, the analysts said a DPP loss would confirm the party’s dwindling support at grass roots level while victory for its candidate will largely be based on people’s choice of Kaunda and not necessarily DPP as a party.
The other candidate in Nkhata Bay Central is Gabriel Phillips Chirwa of United Democratic Front (UDF).
I n Chikwembere and Lalanje wards, the vacancies followed deaths of councillors ushered in during the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
In an interview yesterday, University of Malawi political and administrative studies associate professor Mustafa Hussein said the by-elections, especially in Nkhata Bay, should not be taken lightly as they present a strong test for both Tonse and DPP.
He said: “Tonse Alliance decided to feature one candidate so that votes are not shared, so stakes are very high for them. A loss would be very bad because it would signal people’s disappointment on how government is faring, but also loss of trust on failed promises.
“Then you have the DPP. Kaunda is a high-profile person. He has won that area before and was declared winner in 2019.” Mzuzu University (Mzuni) political analyst Chrispine Mphande said DPP has been the biggest loser since May 2019, losing seats they held in Karonga North West, Nsanje Central and North and Phalombe North; hence, would not afford another slip.
He said: “The DPP is suffering because there are no clear guidelines governing the party. Everyone is doing things on their own. Nobody is sure on the direction of the party.”
Mphande observed that candidates in Nkhata Bay Constituency were largely left alone by their respective parties.
He said the absence of Tonse Alliance partners to help in campaigning reflects on finances and agreements, especially that in other by-elections they were campaigning fully.
On his part, University of Livingstonia analyst George Phiri also said the infighting in DPP has worsened the situation and that the election presents an opportunity to prove the party’s relevance.
For Tonse, he said supporting one candidate was another test on co-existence, especially after the rivalry that turned ugly in some by-elections, especially in Karonga where Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party supporters fought.
In separate interviews, both Kaunda and Mhone urged calm as the voting takes place, saying everything was fine in the area.
NkhataBay district commissioner Rodney Simwaka, who is also the returning officer, said the campaigning has all been peaceful.
He said: “We have witnessed one of the most peaceful campaigns. We hope it ends that way.”
In the run-up to the November 10 by elections in Karonga Central, Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson Chifundo Kachale, a judge of the High Court of Malawi, warned that he would cancel the polls following violence that resulted in injuries for 12 people, six each from MCP and UTM Party.
In her reaction, Catholic University of Malawi head of political studies Chimwemwe Kandodo said the peaceful campaign in Nkhata Bay Central was due to the Tonse Alliance’s decision to field one candidate.
She said: “I commend Tonse for fielding one candidate unlike what has been happening as you can see, there has been no violence. They are speaking one language, I wish this continues.
“The by-election is important because whoever wins, will signal strength of their political party or grouping. A loss will speak volumes.”
Mhone appealed the High Court decision that upheld Kaunda’s victory and the Supreme Court granted him his wish, prompting Kaunda to take the matter to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights where his application was thrown out