It is an interesting cycle. Just after twenty years from change, politics is going back to the starting point, yet again. This is a history that has to be emphasized because this is where the modern Malawi is built from: After three decades of one party rule, Malawi went to the polls and rejected the system.
It was not a change that happened in isolation. The end of Cold War is one of the major external factors that shook Dr. Kamuzu Banda and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). Subsequently, they lost power from an inspired internal movement that ushered in Dr. Bakili Muluzi and the United Democratic Front (UDF) as the new political and governance mandate bearers in 1994.
The 1994 elections, although participated by a host of parties, including former exiled politicians, created an informal three party system that included the former ruling party, the then ruling party and the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD). These were the top three leading parties in the elections and dominated politics for the next twelve years.
The battle was between MCP and UDF, with AFORD largely being used as a pawn in the play. When his prescribed two terms was coming to an end in 2004, President Muluzi abandoned the democratic promise he had championed and asked for a third term, then an open term, through the National Assembly. But with serious governance and economic challenges Malawi was going through, he did not succeed in his attempt.
The country experienced the largest political activism since the ousting of Dr. Banda. Politics around this period fragmented our party system. Other parties mushroomed as we were approaching the third General Elections in 2004. UDF won the elections. But more interesting is the performance of MCP. Despite being out of power for a decade then, it remained a force to reckon with.
And so was in the other following General Elections, 2009 and 2014. The party has fought against the wind and poised itself as a potential government. But a look at the strength of the parties it competed with throughout the elections opens us up to the future. UDF has merged with the present ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and that has rendered it ineffective.
AFORD has had internal fatal divisions and is no longer as powerful as it was. The People’s Party (PP), the front runner in the 2014 General Elections, due to its then ruling party privilege, is in a desolate state after being abandoned by its founder and President, Joyce Banda. MCP has still maintained its political shape and stands as a serious potential government.
As 2019 approaches, the battle for the votes is between MCP and DPP. But there is a huge difference in these two parties. DPP may be enjoying support from its state as a ruling party, but outside this privilege, it can no longer be. Started by the late President Bingu wa Mutharika and now being led by his brother and President, Peter Mutharika, the party is yet to undergo a serious internal democratic challenge.
In 2009 Bingu wa Mutharika was unanimously chosen as the presidential candidate, without any opposition. In the run up to 2014 elections, Peter Mutharika was undemocratically promoted as the next party leader and State President. Its leadership has solely been based on characters and not structures. And that is a recipe for disaster. That makes its hold on power to be unsustainable.
In the event that it loses power in 2019, expect a party that will face serious struggles. Since it has no strong structures for choosing its leaders, the expectation that it will come out from this strong is minimal. But with MCP keeping itself in shape throughout the two decades it has been out of power, expect it to further be strengthened when it gets into power.
See it before it happens. Malawi is once again about to become a ‘one party state’ in 2019 with MCP. The main reason for this will the failure by the parties that led in the period to be democrats within themselves. It has been a time characterized by individuals and not sustainable party structures, a quality that MCP has consistently been showing.
*Views in this post are those of the author and DO NOT reflect those of this publication.
About the author: Wonderful Mkhutche is a professional speech writer, a political scientist and a manuscript editor and developer