Hon. Folks, when UDF was in government between 1994 and 2014, it used to bolster its strength in Parliament by preying on opposition MPs and, later, the so-called independents.
But where the marriage of convenience was with a whole party as was the case between 1994 and 1996 when UDF formed an alliance with Aford, the “dowry” was visibly generous. Aford President Chakufwa Chihana was made Second Vice President, several of its MPs were given ministerial portfolios and some of its other cronies were sent on diplomatic missions or made parastatal board directors.
It was pretty much a win-win arrangement. UDF got the much-needed numerical strength to pass bills more easily in Parliament while Aford got a fair share of the trappings of being in government.
This week we’ve seen 11 UDF MPs follow their party president Atupele Muluzi to the government benches in the august House. Atupele has, since the DPP victory in the 2014 elections, been the only UDF and opposition member in APM’s 20-member Cabinet.
The deal was clandestine. DPP did not enter into negotiations with UDF as a party. Rather, the offer was to Atupele and it was made on the heels of reported talks between APM and Atupele’s father, former president Bakili Muluzi.
It’s a deal that brought a thaw to the acrimony that became pronounced when the late Bingu wa Mutharika ditched UDF in 2005, a year after winning the presidential election on its ticket, to form DPP which became the party in government by default.
The rumour mill has it that Muluzi got back assets including vehicles which government agents impounded for tax disputes. He also somewhat got off the hook, albeit temporarily, on a K1.7 billion fraud case.
Could UDF’s donation of 11 additional seats in Parliament be a thank you for what APM has done for the Muluzi family?
Another possible explanation for it could be that the two parties are strategising for victory in 2019. DPP realises that it will contest in the next presidential election with the burden of incumbency weighing down on its shoulders.
While there’s a greater likelihood that it will still sweep the vote in its Lhomwe stronghold of the Southern Region—Thyolo, Mulanje, Phalombe and Chiradzulu—its fortunes may diminish elsewhere as economic hardships continue to bite.
UDF, on the other hand, knows that its political survival depends on consolidating its grip of the Yao belt of the Southern Region which unfortunately also happens to be the base of Joyce Banda’s PP. An alliance with the ruling DPP which also happens to be a bitter rival, if not outright enemy, of PP, would bolster its chances of whacking PP in Mangochi, Machinga and Balaka.
At the national level, DPP and UDF may well be aware of the fact that it’s by fighting as one that they can neutralise PP, secure the southern vote and face MCP both in the Centre where it enjoys massive support, and in the North.
In that scenario, the two parties will greatly be helped by cracks in PP whose leader, JB, has been on the run ever since her nemesis, APM, assumed power. It could be that she is afraid APM, who was incarcerated by JB on treason charges in 2012, may want to throw back at her the Molotov cocktail now that the massive looting of government coffers called Cashgate was exposed on the watch of JB in 2013. In fact, in a press statement on public sector reforms, APM associates Cashgate with the JB administration despite that there are pointers to the possibility that Cashgate pre-dates the short reign of JB.
PP Vice-President for the North, Harry Mkandawire resigned last week, saying he doesn’t want to be associated with “Cashgate.” Could it be that the political battle for the North has started by tearing apart PP in the region? Time will tell.
What is obvious though is that Bakili Muluzi is too astute a politician to let the whole UDF — the party he founded and the party he most likely controls even while on retirement from active politics — throw its weight behind DPP in Parliament for nothing.
He wouldn’t be the “political engineer” if he were so naive as to offer a free lunch to a party which snatched away from his mouth a political pie a decade ago. Time will tell where UDF and DPP are headed with their marriage of convenience.