A survey by the Institute of Public Opinion and Research (Ipor) has shown newly-formed United Transformation Movement (UTM) and its leader Vice-President Saulos Chilima is the third most popular grouping after the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
The survey, dated October 2018, was conducted between August and September this year to assess the political environment in Malawi 10 months ahead of the May 2019 Tripartite Elections and give an understanding of the political and economic environment of the country.
It shows the DPP is likely to win the 2019 elections with a stronger base in the Southern Region, followed by MCP in the Central Region and then UTM.
Surprisingly, the two major political parties have lagged behind in the Northern Region, where UTM’s popularity stands at 28 percent, followed by DPP and MCP.
Meanwhile, MCP and DPP have dismissed the strong presence of UTM in the survey findings, arguing during the period in which it was conducted, there was euphoria for UTM which has since died down.
But while rejecting negative aspects of the results, MCP and DPP have applauded the elements of the survey which seem to be in their favour.
When presented with some of the findings of the survey, MCP and DPP went on the defensive on what they perceived as going against their standing ahead of the elections.
In an interview yesterday, MCP spokesperson the Reverend Maurice Munthali said while they would avoid undermining the credibility of the survey, the party did not believe it represented views of people on the ground.
Munthali was particularly against the findings that MCP was only popular in the Central Region while UTM is popular in the North.
He said MCP’s popularity was growing which necessitated the plan to field candidates in all 193 constituencies where during primaries they had more than one aspirant.
He also cited the October 2017 by-election results where MCP scooped a seat in the Southern Region and the presence of Sidik Mia as the party’s vice-president who originates from Chikwawa.
“We don’t want to undermine the credibility of the researchers but we have our own understanding that we are making inroads in the Southern Region, as last year’s by-elections indicated,” he said.
But Munthali said it was not surprising that MCP was identified as the party most capable of resolving the country’s national problems.
However, MCP has described the findings on UTM being a contender for the 2019 elections as just euphoria and excitement that comes with a new thing.
On its part, DPP applauded the findings that it would win, that it enjoys popularity across the age groups and the urban and rural areas, citing the stability of the currency, youth oriented programmes like community colleges and the internship programme as some of its flagship projects.
DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi said the party would take the negative findings to heart as it was food for thought.
“We will take this report as valuable advice. It gives us hope that if we work harder we will win,” Dausi said.
But like MCP, DPP did not see UTM as a threat, saying the findings were a reflection of the time when it had just been launched.
“Now the dust is settling, the political tantrums of the time are no longer important. If the survey was done today, things would be different,” he said.
On its part, UTM seemed energised by the findings, describing the 16 percent of respondents who would vote for UTM as a huge boost.
“If the survey was done today, we would do better than third place. Even then, 16 percent is a huge boost considering that the survey was done less than two months after the launch. MCP and DPP in a similar period had more than the percentage points they have garnered in this survey, DPP is down from 36 percent in 2013 to 27 percent while MCP is down from 31 percent then to 27 this year,” UTM interim spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga said.
He said the UTM considers itself the biggest threat to MCP and DPP popularity and the findings of the survey have vindicated them.
On the findings on the youth vote, Chidanti Malunga said considering the election was a race, UTM was making headway in securing the youth vote as evidenced by the crafting of its messages to gain their confidence.
He added: “This is a race, it is not instantaneous. If the survey was done today, we would surpass the findings and this shows we are on the right track.”
While describing the findings of the survey as not unique in terms of the party likely to win, political and governance commentator Henry Chingaipe said they were within the reasonable expectation of the electoral outcomes.
He said DPP has the advantage of incumbency while MCP is a serious contender but the margin between them was small and anything can happen in the next six months, depending on how parties will use these results to inform their electoral campaign strategies.
“The results give momentary relief to DPP that despite their integrity being spoiled too much and their performance being suboptimal, they still have an edge. Given recent political discourse, one would have expected the urban support for DPP to go down sharply,” he said.
On UTM, Chingaipe said it was a force to reckon with considering that they have been able to mobilise more support than UDF and PP.
“PP has suffered from a serious deficit of leadership. In the UTM upshot, all the old parties must see what the people are looking for. The dominance of UTM in the North was expected because since the decline of Aford [Alliance for Democracy], political mobilisation in the region is very fragmented and that has made the North a fertile ground for new outfits,” he said.
The survey had a national representative final sample of 1 350 of eligible voters and was carried out in the months of August and September this year, led by social and political scientists Blessings Chinsinga, Boniface Dulani, Joseph Chunga and Mwayi Masumbu.