As the May 21 General Elections are drawing closer, Malawians on social media and other platforms continue to talk about the need for pre-electoral coalitions for Opposition parties. Some political leaders too, like Honorable Kamlepo Kalua and former President Joyce Banda, among others, have openly supported and opened up to the idea of Opposition alliances. Obviously, their understanding is that an electoral alliance will create a strong Opposition bloc to beat Mutharika and his DPP administration.
I agree that pre-electoral coalitions for the Opposition are a good strategy to defeat incumbents. Results of elections in Malawi, just like in most African countries, show that Opposition parties get more votes collectively than the winning votes of incumbents. Hypothetically, Opposition alliances seem to have the potential to remedy that dilemma because apart from advantages of shared strategies, joint actions and pool of resources, alliances can break demographic barriers where voters vote along regional and tribal affiliations. Other demographic variables like gender and age are also taken aboard as determinants of strategic catchment areas for votes when considering alliances.
But practically, pre-electoral coalitions are not automatic remedies of this Opposition dilemma because evidence in Malawi and across Africa shows that Opposition coalitions backfire against the Opposition. Instead of getting more collective votes, they get fewer together, and the incumbent still leads sometimes with landslide as was Malawi’s case of 2009. In most cases, Opposition coalitions succeed when the incumbent had overstayed in office by consolidating power through dictatorial approaches or was an outright dictator.
One of the reasons why Opposition coalitions backfire is that leaders of the parties are misguided by opportunistic instincts, which blind them from considering the extent to which followers of their different parties will accept the coalition leader who is imposed for candidacy. Since the alliance parties do not share any ideological ideals, the loyalty and allegiance of the members and supporters of the parties lies with their respective party leaders. Therefore, imposition of a new candidate of another party just for the sake of coalition leads to frustration and protest votes which render the strategy ineffective and counterproductive.
Protest voting takes several forms or methods. It can be through absenteeism where the voter simply decides not to vote anymore because their favorite candidate is no longer contesting, or they might cast deliberately damaged ballot papers among other forms depending on the maturity of democracy in the country. But a common protest vote among Africans where the democracy is still immature is where supporters of the parties simply vote for a candidate of another party.
When you analyze the political terrain for May 21 Elections, especially the attributes of the leadership and followers of major Opposing parties like MCP, UDF and UTM, you will not help to notice that any attempted Opposition alliance will backfire. I have removed PP because it is a party with a low self-esteem following the humiliation of 2014. PP will be ready to sell itself or coax others into any coalition than risk another humiliation. The only reason JB was busy with political rallies was only to feign relevance and invent a bargaining chip for alliances. But she can’t bring votes into an alliance, only money and foreign connections, possibly.
Of all leaders of the opposing parties,
there is none whom members and followers of other major opposition
parties can trust and accept. Since an alliance between MCP and any
other opposition parties is not possible, then we can only anticipate an
alliance between UTM, UDF and PP, with the former being the major
players striking deals on running mate and other fatter opportunities.
But an electoral alliance is different from post-electoral coalition where leaders just agree to form government together and what supporters and member of their parties think is irrelevant. An electoral coalition is about supporters not the leaders themselves. Members and supporters of the parties in a coalition must also accept the coalition and the imposed leader. Looking at members of UDF and UTM, I am very sure that they cannot vote for a coalition where Chilima is imposed as the coalition candidate because UDF members look at Chilima and his founding members of UTM as greedy and frustrated politicians, nothing else. On the other hand, most UTM supporters think UDF has no voters because Atupele killed UDF by working with DPP. As a result, there is no trust or admiration between UTM and UDF voters.
Under different circumstances, one would think that any UTM and UDF member who would not approve of the coalition between the two parties would protest by voting for MCP instead. Unfortunately, all Opposition parties do not trust MCP to govern Malawi. As a result, they would either absent themselves from voting or vote for DPP instead. Supporters of Opposition parties don’t have real problems with Mutharika. It is only an issue of perception and exercise of free-will, but they would not hesitate to vote for Mutharika’s second term if they were forced to choose between him and a leader of an opposition party which they don’t belong to.
Only UDF and DPP supporters seem to get along well. For the past five years, UDF and DPP supporters have co-existed and avoided clashes as Atupele and Muthrika worked together in the Office of the President and Cabinet. Therefore, an electoral alliance between DPP and UDF is the only alliance that cannot be counterproductive in any way. (By Lyson Sibande)