Choosing a winning strategy for the Malawi


Electoral alliance, electoral coalition, electoral fusion or a combination of both, or none of the above?

The Tripartite Elections that were held in Malawi on 21st May 2019 were to have been the most important single event and a watershed moment for the country since May 1994.

Never before did so much hinge on the outcome and results of this election.

There are three elements that form the basic fabric of Malawi’s partisan politics since the first democratic elections of 1994 that ushered in the United Democratic Front (UDF) of President Bakili Muluzi and his cohorts.

The multi party democracy ushered in by a hybrid constitution established in 1994 set the tone for patrimony and the owner syndrome of Malawi’s elitist leadership.

Because of the weak and ill-conceived framework, defections, we have experienced politicians jumping from one party to another as opportunists, splinter grouping that leads to breakaways and formation of new parties and the formation of electoral alliances.

We have also seen parties that are like minded banding together to form a united and unifying grouping to fight for leadership of the country because of perceived injustices as well as poor management of the matters of state.

 The main parties, mainly DPP, MCP, PP, UDF and UTM were on a collision course to win the hearts and minds and votes of the Malawi citizenry.

2. History of past alliances

There have been electoral alliances among political parties for as long as there has been multiparty democracy in Malawi.

But much as parties have always succeeded to form electoral alliances to consolidate votes since the MCP and AFORD alliance during the 1999 General Elections, and later the UDF and AFORD alliance and the Mgwirizano coalition both in the run-up to 2004 General Elections, there are also electoral alliances that failed to materialise.

For example, the AFORD and UDF expected electoral alliance in 1994 failed and NDA refused to be part of the Mgwirizano Coalition in the run-up to the 2004 Elections.

The expected MCP, UTM and PP electoral bloc towards the 2019 elections is likely to fall into the latter category of electoral alliances that failed to materialize. In order to understand why the alliance, especially between UTM and MCP cannot work, we need to first of all understand the circumstances and conditions upon which previous electoral alliances worked or failed to work.

Regardless of political dynamics and differences in the political terrain, factors that determine a workable and an impossible electoral alliance remain the same.

"Electoral fusion is an arrangement where two or more political parties on a ballot list the same candidate, pooling the votes for that candidate. Distinct from the process of electoral alliances in that the political parties remain separately listed on the ballot".

This distinction means that one is not a part of the other.

'Electoral fusion' is not a kind of 'electoral alliance' as the latter article describes.

But, still in November 2009, had inserted 'electoral fusion' on the first line showing what is considered an 'electoral alliance'.

Note that 'electoral fusion' is still correctly found and linked in the run-up to the first general elections of 1994, UDF and AFORD were the major contesting parties against the MCP administration.

UDF had tried to convince AFORD to form an electoral alliance to easily defeat MCP and Dr. Banda.

But the alliance talks died in infancy because apart from issues of distrust between members of UDF and AFORD, both Muluzi and Chihana considered themselves to be heavy weights and they needed the Presidency so badly that none of them could surrender the opportunity to the other.

But during the elections that followed in 1999, Chihana agreed to an electoral alliance with Gwanda Chakuamba of MCP.

He proudly said “Gwanda tsogola ine pambuyo” because the 1994 Elections had taught him a tough lesson that he was not as strong a Presidential candidate as he had thought he was. In fact, from this time, Chihana never contested for the presidency again.

After the 1999 alliance with MCP, he sold AFORD to another electoral alliance with UDF during the 2004 Elections where he was not even given the running-mate position. But he did not care because the ego and self-confidence he had prior to 1994 Elections had died as reality sunk into his soul.

Another excellent example is Brown Mpinganjira and his NDA party. Mpinganjira was one of the founding members of UDF and Cabinet Minister in the Muluzi administration. He began to position himself to takeover leadership of UDF after Muluzi.

As a result, he stood against President Muluzi’s ambition to extend his presidency through the Third Term Bill in 2000.

He was dismissed from the cabinet and he formed his NDA to challenge UDF at the 2004 Elections.

His NDA became the most popular party in the run-up to 2004 elections. Multitudes of countless people attended political rallies of NDA.

This popularity gave Mpinganjira and his NDA supporters some confidence that they were capable of winning elections.

As a result, when the churches appealed to NDA and requested Mpinganjira to get into an alliance with other parties in the Mgwirizano Coalition, Mpinganjira refused.

Mpinganjira thought that if he joined the Mgwirizano coalition, then he would lose his opportunity to become President because Gwanda Chakuamba of RP was the candidate for the coalition. But when the elections were over, Mpinganjira lost and so did Chakuamba. Upon losing, Mpinganjira humbled himself.

He took his NDA and formed a political alliance with the UDF government where his NDA quickly faded into oblivion.

3. Too many presidential hopefuls

From the given background of our democracy, we can see that in Malawi, electoral alliances are impossible when all candidates think that they are heavyweights and desperately need the Presidency.

Electoral alliances only work when at least one candidate is willing to give in to the others because he realises that he cannot win alone.

Just like Muluzi and Chihana in 1994, Vice President Saulos Chilima and Leader of Opposition Lazarus Chakwera are not the kind of politicians who are ready to pave way for each other and surrender their ambitions of becoming President.

According to the 2018 amendment of the MCP Constitution, Chakwera knows that unless he wins the 2019 Elections, this is his last chance to be presidential candidate.

He cannot surrender his only last chance to Chilima who is a candidate of another party which is even weaker than MCP.

Chakwera is aware that unlike UTM which enjoys popularity, MCP has the structures and a solid stronghold of voters which came close to making him President in the 2014 Elections.

The only reason Chakwera would want an alliance with UTM is to avoid the splitting of votes in the centre and get the swing votes from UTM.

But that is not good enough to make him surrender his candidacy to Chilima and betray MCP supporters who want their party to rule again.

As we have noticed from previous electoral alliances, the stronger party in the alliance produces the Presidential candidate while the weaker ones get the running mate or ministerial posts.

But Chilima would not accept to be running mate to Chakwera. He was already Vice President in the DPP administration and left that party to form UTM after failing to overthrow APM to take over the Presidency in the May 2019 Elections.

Chilima formed UTM because he wants nothing less than the Presidency.

We must look at him like the Brown Mpinganjira of the most popular NDA in 2004 who was deceived by the popularity of his party and the large crowds that attended his rallies to think that he could go solo and win elections. Chilima is overwhelmed by that illusion now.

The only serious parties that will be flexible enough to get into an alliance with MCP or UTM is PP or UDF.

The history of alliances has shown that smaller parties that don’t stand a chance of winning alone easily get into electoral alliances. That is why PETRA, PPM, MAFUNDE and MGODE easily partnered with RP for the Gwirizano Coalition.

PP came third in 2014 when they were in government. Joyce Banda has done nothing, between 2014 and now, that can push PP from the third position to beat UTM, MCP and DPP in May 2019 Elections. As a result, JB is likely to get a deal with MCP or UTM or even DPP.

She might definitely not want to be running mate, but will be trying to protect the security of interests for herself and her son in the next government.

The context of his entire speech and what he said earlier about his work with the DPP administration and relationship with Mutharika, helps us understand that Muluzi was talking about the one million votes, certainly not to give UDF supporters hope that UDF is likely to form the next government, but to inform Malawians that UDF is still a very relevant and strong political front and one of the determining players of the outcome of 2019 elections.

Muluzi was also trying to communicate to President Mutharika, his advisors and DPP supporters that they do not have to worry about what they perhaps lost through Chilima or fear MCP because UDF has the ammunition of more than one million votes to bring to DPP in an electoral alliance for the “operation landslide” that they hoped for. His ploy fell on deaf ears.

4. The political landscape

Looking at the political terrain towards the May 2019 and Muluzi’s speech, I am very confident that an electoral alliance between DPP and UDF was not possible. In the past, in Malawian politics, there is only one winning formula which involves developing strategy around political strongholds.

The strongholds exist along consideration of ethnic groups and regional boundaries. This is the case in most African countries because there is hardly an African country in the Sub-Sahara where a voter does not first of all ask which tribe or province the presidential candidate and his party originates from before deciding to support or reject him.

With more than 1.2 million registered voters in the Eastern Region and 2,037,154 in the South and Lower Shire, an electoral alliance between DPP and UDF would be unbeatable.

They would have easily beaten MCP which is the main real threat given the 2,686,396 registered votes in the Central Region. Though the Center has the highest statistics of registered voters, the votes will be split between MCP, UTM and DPP.

Additionally, MCP is weaker now than in 2014 given leadership challenges of Lazarus Chakwera that have disintegrated the party and frustrated loyal members.

Effects of the Constitutional Court Judgement Malawi's coming Election as ruled by the court to take place in 150 days from the 3rd February will be an even greater test for political parties in the history of the nation.

The court has leveled the playing field by bringing into law the 50 plus one percent win that the last parliament rejected.

It effectively means a lot of concepts like having strongholds that will support you do not now hold sway. 50 plus 1 percent of the vote demands that the entire country becomes the UTM’s stronghold a fact that was appreciated in the May 22nd 2019 Presidential election where SKC amassed more than a million votes right across the country.

Now, more than ever the UTM needs to be more accommodating of other players. PP, UDF, PETRA, PPM, MAFUNDE, MGODE and other small political parties are also positioning themselves to join the winning team.

If UTM wants to form the next government then their strategies have to show that they are flexible and accommodating in our negotiations.

Their strategy must be one that is inclusive and lacking in arrogance and indignation. Diplomacy and acceptance of each player will go a long way in addressing the perceived aloofness and perceived inclusiveness of the party.

Option 1 -

UTM and DPP UTM has been declared the enemy of the DPP and, unless the DP party dissolves itself and accepts that SKC can be their torch bearer, any attempt to join hands is doomed to failure.

With the in-fighting that already exists in the DPP, this will be an uphill task.

Potential: That the DPP as a party through its Secretary General makes its approach to SKC as VP to join forces. This will mean that APM is to stand down and a convention held to confirm this arrangement.

Additionally, it must be seen at the outset that the government is respecting and honouring its VP by giving him that which he requires for himself and his party. This has to mean the dissolution of Cabinet with him chairing all Cabinet meetings. 50 percent of all future appointments must be made on merit from across the two parties.

Questions about coexisting as a result of their positions on the political spectrum do not exist as it is still unclear where the DPP stands in relation to the Centrist/Conservative/Liberal views of the UTM.

It does not auger well when the court ruling that Chilima returns as Vice President to the side of Mutharika is being denied. Currently the UTM has to appeal to the court for their president to be reinstated as VP and for him to retain what is due to him.

Possibility: Almost ZERO but not to be written off in the event that APM decides NOT TO STAND.

Option 2 -

UTM and MCP Chakwera will have a difficult time dumping Sidik Mia as well as become the running mate for Chilima who already has an effective running mate.

Chilima must never accede to the temptation of being subsidiary to Chakwera. He has already been a running mate before – and see where that got him.

The mechanism to dismantle all this will have to be carefully worked out if it is going to happen. Additionally, you have the added problem of Joyce Banda and Khumbo Kachale to unravel and the two leaders satisfy.

Problems already arose with Chakwera more inclined to work with JB rather than Sidik Mia his running mate, as JB brought a lot of cash to the table, much more than did Mia.

Also, there needs to be an examination of the strategic strengths and weaknesses of the MCP to see if there are any conflicts that might affect the campaign as well as an Alliance Government in the future.

Potential: Very low possibility of this happening, but should this work somehow, there will be need to clearly understand the dynamics of the main players and help downplay the weaknesses of the MCP so far as history is concerned. MCP is a very conservative, far right party that has to work out how it will exist along a more Centrist and therefore Liberal party like UTM.

A Strategy team has to examine every eventuality that may cause conflict. Additionally, the Constitution of the UTM needs to be revisited if Chakwera somehow agrees to be the running mate of Chilima.

Possibility: 50 percent chance of this taking place. Too much arrogance and there is little understanding of the required needs necessary to win the election end June or July.

Option 3 -

UTM/AFORD, other players as well as UDF and PP. It has been proven that UTM is capable of working with other parties, together as one team to galvanise the citizens of Malawi. It is no mean task to obtain more than a million votes for a new party president of a new party.

In part, it was because of the appeal of the promise of something radically new in Malawi, a new direction, some hope.

In a 50 plus 1 percent Presidential election, there will be many former Presidential Candidates that will know that they cannot win.

It is these that UTM needs to reach out to, to garner greater grassroots support. Professor John Chisi of Umodzi Party (UP), Peter Kuwani of (Mbakuwaku Movement for Development), Atupele Muluzi of United Democratic Front (UDF) Tikonze Peoples Movement of Cassim Chilumpha and the independent candidate Reverend Hadwick Kaliya are some persons that need to be approached.

Additionally, we seem to have forgotten about many other players with political parties because they did not compete. Such like Mark Katsonga Phiri of People's Progressive Movement (PPM) {Mwanza}, Kamlepo Kaluwa of the Malawi Democratic Party (MDP) {North}, George Mnesa of the Malawi Forum for Unity and Development (MAFUNDE) {South}, Rolf Patel’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) {Thyolo/Mulanje}, the Movement for Genuine Democratic Change (MGDC) and National Unity Party (NUP) as well as Kamuzu Chibambo’s People's Transformation Party (PETRA) and the former party of late Gwanda Chakuamba, the Republican Party (RP) {Nsanje/Chikhwawa} and even Brown Mpinganjira’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) {Mulanja/Phalombe}, and the People's Party (PP) {Zomba/Domasi} of Joyce Banda.

All these need to be approached, albeit in a circuitous and cleverly diplomatic manner to see if the UTM can gather a critical mass of political players and groups from across the board to change the course of our country. It must always be remembered that a political rival today could be the very friend that allows you to win in an election. It is votes that count.

Potential: A great possibility that this scenario could play itself out to great benefit. It should be very easy to work out strategies that would satisfy every player depending on what they bring to the table. There will be need to work out how such an arrangement will work along a more Centrist and therefore Conservative but Liberal party like UTM.

Again, a Strategy Team has to examine every eventuality that may cause conflict between the many players. The Constitution of the UTM clearly allows for such arrangements. Possibility: 100% chance of this taking place.


On 21st May 2019 Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima amassed a total of 1,018,369 votes from a total of 5,031,264 valid votes cast with a new party, giving confidence and creating a new “Kid on the Block” that has shaken the foundations of Malawi’s Election history. This is a paradigm shift of seismic proportions.

In fact, many believed that both the DPP and the MCP were busy de-campaigning him and embarked on a massive attempt to undermine him, including blatantly attempting to rig against him in their favour.

Left on a level playing field, SKC would have walked all over his opponents, embarrassing them in the process.

The fact of the matter is that Saulos Chilima can repeat this process with his eyes closed and with no more than he had in 2019 all things being equal.

It is therefore my contention that it would be folly to join hands with either the DPP (which will ensnare him) or the MCP (whom he will be unequally yoked to).

With DPP in flux, there is no chance that they can come 1st or 2nd in the race, especially after the bribery case is heard and many of their numbers imprisoned.

Because of the 50 plus one percent needed, or in excess of 2.5 million votes, no single party will be able to win.

There will be a second round of voting of the two top contenders, and these will be MCP and UTM.

Whatever the outcome of this second round of voting, UTM and Dr. Saulos Chilima cannot lose.

It is my opinion that this will be the defining time, in between the first and second round of voting that the alliances can be made, even with the MCP with the winner taking the larger slice of the cake but working together in a Coalition Government.

There is every possibility that SKC will be standing against two new Presidential Candidate hopefuls. Word is out that APM is unwilling to stand and would be very happy to return to Chicago.

Additionally, there are rumblings inside the MCP camp that they need to have a new torch bearer after Chakwera failed a second time to win.

The fact is that we need a style of governance that takes into account the welfare and aspirations of ALL the people, not just those from the Lhomwe belt or the Chewas from the Central Region.

Decisions cannot be determined by short-term gains that bring limited impact. Long-term, far reaching objectives must be the agenda henceforth.

What seemingly could be construed as a concession now can have great advantage to the UTM now and to Malawi as a country into the foreseeable future.

Coalitions can be determined immediately the 2 frontrunners are decided. Then only can Chakwera and Chilima start negotiating for the future of Malawi. This might entail a complete change to the Constitutional order of leadership in the country.

The UTM as a party belongs to the radical centre. The left has an obsession with the control of the state, and the right has a worship of the market at the expense of the nation. Both these options run directly counter to our character as a party and to our modus operandi. But as Centrists, we place our faith in people. The party is not on the left and is not on the right. We have our own label: Conservative Liberalism. We are conservative because we know that Malawi is indeed a conservative society and we are liberal in outlook because we own the freehold to the centre ground of Malawi’s politics; to give people the opportunity to grow and develop as well as to be relevant and contribute to our mutual growth as a nation. Our politics is the politics of the radical centre that wishes to embrace all peoples of this country. Contribution to Democracy and to the Development of our nation belongs to all of us without distinction. Purely partisan politics for its own sake has robbed many Malawians and residents in the country of participating fully in the improvement and advancement of our nation. Our Republican Constitution, on giving people their right to contribute states very clearly: Chapter 20. Equality: 1. Discrimination of persons in any form is prohibited and all persons are, under any law, guaranteed equal and effective protection against discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnic or social origin, disability, property, birth or other status. Additionally, the Republican Constitution provisions also place emphasis on the right to development for all people as follows: Chapter 30. Right to development: 1. All persons and peoples have a right to development and therefore to the enjoyment of economic, social, cultural and political development, and women, children and the disabled in particular shall be given special consideration in the application of this right. 2. The State shall take all necessary measures for the realization of the right to development.

Such measures shall include, amongst other things, equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources, education, health services, food, shelter, employment and infrastructure.

We will appeal to all people who hold moderate views because those will most likely rally behind the UTM and SKC who favour reforming the government program and agenda, not abolishing it in its entirety. The UTM is known to be more than ready to provide a paradigm change to the way that Malawi is to be run.

We need to return this nation to a position of excellence, discipline and a responsible, hard working and honest citizenry. The Constitutional Court has paved the way for this now to happen. We, as a nation know that matters cannot continue as they have done for so many years under poor administrative policies that encourage cronyism, nepotism and corruption.

Our nation cannot afford a lackluster approach to political imperatives, nation building, wealth creation, poverty eradication or economic progress. It is time for radical processes to be put in place to help the recovery of our nation. And it is now that strategies must be worked out, whether power sharing or just co-existing as a nation is to take place in a seamless manner that brings dignity and establishes pride in our nation.

The facts are: • That SKC can, and should be stand alone in the 1st round of elections but with the other smaller parties rallying behind him. Him and the party are confident of repeating the process and creating a paradigm shift in Malawi • That, although there is now a need to form coalitions and broad-based associations of a political and civil nature, this must not be undertaken in a hurry and certainly not immediately.

There must be a willingness to negotiate an all encompassing agenda for the future. All that is needed is to show a willingness to work with everybody.

• The UTM has no choice but to shift the direction Malawi has been travelling on and place it on a more even and firm keel of growth and prosperity. This direction change must be driven by a leadership that has great devotion, selflessness, dedication, integrity, loyalty and faithfulness to Mother Malawi and her people.

• Inclusive and collective action by, for and of her people must form the bedrock of this transformational agenda to help resolve the deep seated challenges we face.

• Discipline and responsibility to nation as well as taking ownership of our collective destiny is essential for our success. Only a radical approach can work.

• Partisan politics must take a back seat so that all Malawians can fully participate in the development agenda we all espouse. Malawi should resist the urge to bring partisan politics into governance but reserve the parties for election purposes only.

• For us to leave a positive and long lasting legacy, it is time that individual short term benefits be shunned for the long term profit to the state.

Plans must be created encompassing several decades rather than the five year term in office. We will build on past successes of past regimes and create opportunity for continuation beyond the two terms.