Monday, June 01, 2009

How President Mutharika of Malawi Outwitted Rivals

How Mutharika outwitted rivals

By Zvamaida Murwira recently in MALAWI
Courtesy of the Zimbabwe Herald

MALAWI’S general elections results have transformed the political landscape of that country and even the winners — as do people from across South Africa and indeed the whole continent — can learn lessons from.

The results have transformed the Democratic Progressive Party led by President Bingu Wa Mutharika, which until the elections was the minority in a parliament dominated by the United Democratic Front led by former leader Mr Bakili Muluzi and the Malawi Congress Party fronted by Mr John Tembo — into a formidable force to reckon with.

The DPP tore apart the form book, taking advantage of the manner in which the other two parties imposed candidates in areas they thought were their strongholds without any regard for the will of the people.

President wa Mutharika’s DPP surprised everyone, and perhaps themselves as well, when their candidates won in areas perceived to be UDF and MCP strongholds.

The consequences of imposing candidates by MCP and UDF were that either independent candidates won, or DPP won as a result of the splitting of votes.

The lesson is simple: the electorate does not want to be taken for granted and it will reject candidates that it does not identify with.

One major strength of the DPP was its ability to embrace everyone, no wonder Mr Ken Edward Kandodo, nephew to the country’s first president, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, won the Kasungu central constituency on a DPP ticket in area largely believed to be an MCP stronghold.

To demonstrate inclusiveness, President wa Mutharika has revived the Banda Day on May 14, and used the reintroduction to unveil a statue of the country’s founder president in Lilongwe on that day this year.

The effect of this was that the late Dr Banda’s followers would start identifying with DPP.

Heavyweights, who include former cabinet ministers, were left bruised in the general elections.

Voters showed that they could make serious statements and change the course of things at any point along the country’s democratic path.

More importantly, President wa Mutharika won because he managed to address what are normally referred to as the politics of the stomach.

Malawi registered an economic growth rate of 9 percent last year, a feat that saw many Malawians being able to get food on their table.

He introduced subsidies on fertilizer to make it affordable to ordinary people and the result has been increased agricultural productivity.

Malawi transformed itself into a net exporter of maize during President wa Mutharika’s last term of office.

And now the dominance of UDF and MCP is now a thing of the past with DPP, which until the general elections, only had a handful of MPs it garnered through by-elections, has suddenly transformed itself into a ruling party.

The DPP was on the ground and was quite visible in terms of campaigning.

The party’s posters were everywhere, the most notable one being the imposing portrait of President wa Mutharika as one enters Blantyre from Mwanza.

Very few posters or messages of other political parties could be seen, something that could have had an adverse effect on the other contestants.

During his campaign, President wa Mutharika conducted whistle-stop tours across the country, which are more like roadshows, and he would get a rousing welcome just about everywhere he went.

A few days before polling, President wa Mutharika made a surprise visit to Lilongwe Tobacco Auction Floors in Kanengo and personally confronted heads of tobacco buying companies, demanding answers on why they were offering farmers low prices.

The president entered the floors and started inspecting the bales that had been sold to check the prices before confronting the authorities on why they were not complying with prices that had been mutually agreed on.

"If I had dictated the prices, it would have been a different scenario but you agreed to buy at these prices. This is a breach of trust and where there is a breach of trust, there are consequences," President wa Mutharika was quoted as saying by The Daily Times.

Authorities at the floors subsequently agreed to revisit of prices but argued that the prices had been low because the quality of the tobacco was equally low.

From the reading of the election results, DPP did its homework to deserve a nod from the electorate.

Mr Tembo reacted to the outcome of the polls by rejecting the results from his party’s stronghold in the central region, because of what he called "irregularities" in the vote counting.

A DPP spokesman denied the claim, saying the elections were transparent.

Rafiq Hajat, executive director of the Institute for Policy Interaction in Malawi, told the journalists that President wa Mutharika had clearly swept the country.

"By and large with the results that have been both announced and the results that are being displayed, you can surmise that it looks like a tsunami victory for the incumbent, Dr Bingu wa Mutharika. Basically, it shows a huge preponderance of votes in his favour," he said.

Hajat said he observed two interesting trends from the results.

"The trends that are emerging show that people are making a difference between the parliamentary candidates and the presidential candidates.

"The second aspect is that the regional, ethnic and tribal lines that used to influence votes are becoming blurred, and Malawians seem to be voting as a nation rather than as three regions cobbled haphazardly together. It shows that there is a synergy occurring," Hajat said.

He said the whole process appeared to have gone smoothly with the exception of a few anomalies.

Hajat said President wa Mutharika would also win a clear majority of seats in parliament by making deals with parliamentarians from smaller political parties.

While the DPP might be celebrating its election victory, analysts have also warned that the party has to maintain the momentum and deliver on its election promises, lest it will face the same fate as the losing parties in the next polls.

When all is said and done, the election results showed that voters had realised that the national interest went above all other considerations and that is why the DPP won.

Politicians will also do well by not taking people for granted as demonstrated by the exit of many bigwigs.

Parties should not impose candidates, period!

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