‘UTM has split the votes’

 

Following a constitutional court ruling on Friday, Zanu-PF leader Emmerson Mnangagwa is Zimbabwe’s President. Our Staff Writer ALBERT SHARRA caught up with Wits University political studies lecturer Michael Jana who followed the elections with keen interest to seek views on lessons that Malawi can draw.

Jana: Credible elections start prior
to the elections

Q

: What is your take on Mnangagwa’s victory as announced by the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court on Friday?

A

:Going by Zanu-PF support base, Zimbabwe demographics and Zanu-PF’s monopoly of patronage resources, it is really not surprising that Zanu-PF won the two-thirds majority of parliamentary seats and the presidency. Zanu-PF has been commanding the majority of rural support where over 60 percent of the population resides.

Besides, there have been reports of unfair playing field prior to elections where Zanu-PF, for instance; monopolised State media and used State resources to woo voters. But I should be quick to indicate that Movement for Democratic Change [MDC] has actually improved from the 2013 election performance. It now has 14 more seats in Parliament than in 2013, and if it were not for splits in the MDC, it could have prevented Zanu-PF from getting the two-thirds majority and probably force a second round voting in presidential elections.

Q

: It was a narrow escape from a rerun. Are there any lessons for Malawi as we prepare for the 2019 elections?

A

: I should indicate that Zimbabwe and Malawi have different contexts such as the fact that Zimbabwe follows the 50+1 percent electoral system for presidential elections. However, there are some general lessons that Malawi can learn from the Zimbabwe experience, one of which is that credible elections start prior to the elections and not only on the elections day or after.

The Zimbabwe elections that were declared to be generally free and well managed by some international groups were dented by some cases of pre-and post-elections violence and State monopoly of State media and patronage. All electoral stakeholders should make sure that this is avoided. Political parties should also learn the need for forging electoral alliances if they are to increase their chances in a ‘winner-takes-all’ electoral environment.

Q

: The political landscape in Malawi seems to have changed following the coming in of United Transformation Movement (UTM) which is promising a new youthful voice. Like MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, the Vice-President Saulos Chilima of UTM is youthful. Is there any lesson you think Chilima can draw from Chamisa’s fall?

A

: I have not seen a detailed post-elections analysis of Zimbabwe to have an idea, for example, of the proportion of youths who voted for Chamisa. But we know that Zimbabwe, like many African countries, including Malawi, has a youthful population. And the Zimbabwe elections turnout this year at over 85 percent was actually the best since 1980, meaning that many people, including the youth, were eager to vote.

Despite all these factors, Chamisa has failed to win the presidential elections and his party has only managed to win 64 seats in Parliament versus Zanu-PF’s 144 seats. This is a significant reality check. It shows that winning elections is more than playing a

‘youth’ card.

We saw in the May 20 2014 elections how Atupele[Muluzi], riding on ung’onoung’ono [youthful] euphoria, failed to win the presidency. This does not mean that UTM cannot harness the youth vote. Actually, figures are showing that more youths are registering to vote in 2019 and it would be absurd for any party to ignore this demographic advantage. But parties should strategise beyond this and consider other factors such as what would appeal to rural versus urban voters.

Q

: It is almost eight months to the elections and UTM has been around for few months now. Are you giving it a chance come May 21?

A

: There is a chance if they can play their cards well. But what I can say with certainty at the moment is that UTM has split the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] vote and has made inroads among voters who were undecided, but we don’t know by how much and whether this is enough to win the elections. We should note that other parties such as DPP, Malawi Congress Party [MCP], United Democratic Front [UDF], People’s Party [PP] are also not idle. They are busy strategising to strengthen their support base by maintaining their supporters, encroaching into other parties’ support base, as well as wooing undecided voters. So, the game is still on. But is is clear that the coming in of UTM has split the votes to the extent that chances are high of top parties amassing votes with marginal differences and having a minority President unless a strong electoral alliance emerges.

Q

: Do you see any potential for alliances in the run-up to the 2019 polls?

A

: Now we have about five big parties and if each were to go it alone, chances are high of having marginal differences. It is difficult to predict the winner. In this context, and given our first-past-the-post electoral system, an electoral alliance seems a plausible way to increase chances of winning the presidential elections. I understand that negotiations are underway among different political parties to explore possibilities of forging alliances. The biggest challenge is to create incentives for some political parties with significant support base to give up the presidential candidacy for the sake of forging an electoral alliance. This is the most difficult part, especially considering that, in Malawi, the President has a lot of power and being a President is obviously the top prize. It is, therefore, not easy for Chilima or Chakwera to give up the presidency for the sake of forging an electoral alliance.

Q

: The Zimbabwe elections were marred by violence during and after. How best can Malawi avoid this come 2019?

A

: The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, for instance, documented 199 violence acts during the elections period. In Malawi, we have already witnessed electoral related violence such as the recent burning of UTM vehicles and increasing hate speeches.

There is need for effective conflict management and preventive strategies such as, including conflict mitigation measures within the electoral process design, promoting inter-party dialogue and bringing perpetrators to book.

Q

:  As the 2019 polls draw closer, what advice do you have for both the electorate and political parties?

A

: My advice is the need to promote issue-based politics and not personalised or ethnic politics. Political parties need to present their analysis of the Malawi situation and how they are going to solve the problems and the electorate should assess these presentations against their realities and make a choice of their next leaders. It is high time we use this freedom to address substantive issues.

Share This Post

One Comment - Write a Comment

Comments are closed.