The politics of defection: 2025 Malawi elections heat up

John Chisi is a Malawian politician who contested in the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections

“Political defections deceive the mandate of the electorate, the fundamentals of a party system, and lead to political instability in the country. The phenomena of anti-defection became popular in 1967 with a popular phase “aaya ram gaya ram” when Haryana MLA Gaya Lal changed his party thrice within the same day.” – Palak Mehta, Karnavati University, United World School of Law.

I am of the view that political defections are meant mainly to cheat and disappoint the legitimate voters who spend their precious time and effort standing on long queues to elect leaders of their choice.

In Democracy, it is left to the citizens to make decisions, instead of a single political leader. Voting in a Democracy is a responsibility, which is why most countries have age restrictions on it. Voting requires education. If someone is running for Presidency or Parliament, education is knowing and understanding what their general policies are, as well as how they react to stress and criticism.

A relatively small portion of the Malawi citizen population is actually qualified to vote. Qualifications for this are merely a moderate grasp of the candidate’s foreign and domestic approach.

The desire for power of politicians in Malawi is taking precedence over any other consideration as we approach 2025. Many are changing their allegiance, not because their constituents have changed their mind, I would like to argue, but it is nonetheless for the desire of their stomach to be full.

I understand very well that we all need to have a steady income in order to survive. However, political leaders must realize that they stand for the people, get to power by the people’s vote, on behalf of the same people and not on their own.

On the recent political scene, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Vice-President for the Centre Zeria Chakale and Umodzi Party president John Chisi defected to the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

The question is: Are these defections really coming from the people who voted for these leaders into office or is it simply their own decision?

We need to restrain the uncertainties and protect political parties’ strength of shared beliefs. We need to move away from the defection syndrome because political parties are organized and founded on ideology and principles and on the basis of that strive to achieve power; however, when the only motive becomes power with no ideology or principles, no conscience, no restraint, then the hunger for power becomes a threat to democracy.

I want to believe that the leaders who are defecting today from Democratic Progressive Party and Umodzi Party to the ruling Malawi Congress Party have made wide consultations. And if the decision they have made is coming from the people of their constituencies, then it’s well and good; they can go ahead.

If the decisions made are based on their individual opinions and perceptions, then I’m afraid it’s a problem, there’s disaster coming ahead of them.

United Democratic Front (UDF)

UDF defeated MCP in 1994, and many defections came alongside, mainly from the MCP crossing to the side of UDF. The common statement was “they wanted to work with the government in the day and serve the people much better.” Were those defections important and done in good faith?

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)

DPP was formed at a time when UDF was in power and ruling. It was born out of political differences that were there between the former President Bakili Muluzi and the then State President Bingu wa Mutharika by undermining his authority. Muluzi wanted to have political control and influence in the ruling UDF while sidelining President Mutharika and making him a political spectator without any political power and control. Bingu resigned from the political party that sponsored him to win elections and formed his own DPP. A number of defections happened at that time, and the same question is: Were those defections from UDF to DPP genuine and beneficial to the voters or individuals at the time?

People’s Party (PP)

Mutharika died on 5 April 2012 at the age of 78. He suffered a heart attack and was reportedly flown to a South African hospital due to power outages in Lilongwe. The media reported “chaotic scenes” after his wife, Callista, and other cabinet members were leaving the hospital. His condition was initially announced as “critical,” and police were deployed throughout the capital with 15 Army officers posted at the Vice-President’s residence.

His death was officially confirmed on 7 April, the day Joyce Banda was sworn in as Malawi’s first female president despite controversy following Information and Civic Education Minister Patricia Kaliati’s statement that “the conduct of the honorable Joyce Banda in forming her own opposition party precludes her from being eligible to succeed the presidency,” while the country’s security forces also wanted the constitutional order to prevail.

At this time, another drama of defections took center stage again when some senior officials, such as Sidik Mia, resigned from the DPP and defected to PP before Bingu could even be buried. Were these defections meaningful to democracy and the people of Malawi?

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)

Peter Mutharika was elected as President in the 2014 election after beating Joyce Banda, who was president at the time in that election. Mutharika came from opposition and won the election. He was sworn in as President on 31 May 2014. Naming his cabinet in June 2014, Mutharika took charge of the defense portfolio himself. He appointed the veteran economist Goodall Gondwe as Minister of Finance and appointed one of the defeated presidential candidates, Atupele Muluzi, as Minister of Natural Resources, Energy, and Mining.

As of June 2014, he supported diversification of Malawi’s agriculture into other crops besides tobacco.

A number of defections transpired, and we saw another movement of politicians from PP to the ruling DPP. Politicians who defected to DPP from PP included Ken Msonda. I will ask the same question again; Were those defections from the people, by the people, and for the people?

Malawi Congress Party (MCP)

Malawi’s opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera won the country’s rerun presidential vote in June 2020, it was declared. He defeated President Peter Mutharika with 58.57% (almost 60%) of the vote in the poll, the electoral commission announced late on Saturday.

In February 2020, Malawi’s constitutional court annulled Mutharika’s victory in the May 2019 election, citing vote tampering. The country was bitterly divided in the run-up to that week’s election.

Barely two years before the next election in 2025, defections are here once again. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Vice-President for the Centre Zeria Chakale and Umodzi Party president John Chisi have defected to the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

The question still remains the same: Have the electorates decided that these leaders change camps today? Do these political leaders have valid reasons for defecting to the ruling MCP or not?


More broadly, defection involves abandoning a person, cause, or doctrine to which one is bound by some tie, as of allegiance or duty.

Defection is also applied, often pejoratively, to anyone who switches loyalty to another religion, sports team, political party, or other rival faction. In that sense, the defector is often considered a traitor by their original side.

The physical act of defection is usually in a manner that violates the laws of the nation or political entity from which the person is seeking to depart. Therefore, the defection of Zeria Chakale, John Chisi, Chikumbutso Sinsamala, and Maureen Isa violates the laws of political parties from which they have departed. For those who are Members of Parliament, it means they have crossed the floor, and section 65 must be applied to them. By contrast, mere changes in citizenship or working with allied militia usually do not violate any law(s).