In 2009 elections the incumbent, President Bingu wa Mutharika was re-elected with an unprecedented landslide of close to 67 per cent. Did these elections results depart from the stronghold winning formula in Malawi and invalidated it?
In the first place it is important to know that much as there are popular candidates and strong candidates, there are also candidates that are both, popular and strong. I think to make my points clear on what happened in 2009 elections, I will very briefly use examples of American candidates and system because it explains our situation better.
In the 2016 elections in the USA, Hilary Clinton was a popular candidate. The media loved her and gave her all the positive coverage. On the other hand, Donald Trump was not popular and the media gave him all the negative coverage there could be in the world. But Trump won and became president despite his unpopularity because of the American electoral system which is “ in some sense” like that of Malawi which does not care about popularity but winning strongholds to secure electoral colleges votes.
In the example of Clinton and Trump, we see an incidence of a popular candidate against a strong candidate who has control over advantageous factors of the elections’ winning formula in the USA. But let me take you back to 2008 and 2012. Barrack Obama, both as Senator and President respectively was a popular candidate and a strong one on both occasions against Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney respectively. As a result, Obama won both, the popular vote and Electoral College vote.
Now, what you will notice is that in the American electoral system a candidate who is both popular and strong wins both, the popular and Electoral College votes. He or she wins on two counts. Now, what happened in Malawi in 2009 was that Bingu wa Mutharika was both a popular and strong candidate as a result he substantially secured two types of votes, which I will explain to you, but did not destroy the stronghold formula.
When Bingu ran for office in 2004 through UDF, Bingu was not popular. As a result, he won with about 36 per cent of largely loyal votes from the UDF stronghold. But as President of Malawi, Bingu did two things which made 2009 elections a very special case. The first one was that he formed DPP in early 2005 which was early enough to develop structures and get entrenched to the grass root. As a result, DPP successfully replaced UDF as the giant of the southern stronghold. And secondly, Bingu performed so well in his first term that he became so popular.
As of the time of Elections in May 2009, Bingu was both popular due to his performance in office and strong because his DPP had taken over the southern stronghold. As a result, when he went to the polls, unlike in 2004 whereby he only got loyal votes from the stronghold, he also got popular votes which came from two sources. The first source was the swing voters and the second source was the northern stronghold.
Let me start swing voters. Swing voters are the opposite of loyal voters. They don’t vote because they are loyal to their party or candidate. They don’t vote depending on their tribe or region. And their vote changes every elections and it can got either ways. Since they are not loyal, swing voters vote based on the candidate who has impressed them with their manifesto, etc. and they are unpredictable. Now, because Bingu performed well and was popular the swing voters were impressed and gave him their votes.
The northern region also gave much of their votes to Bingu because after the 1994 Elections whereby Chihana discovered the party stronghold winning formula, he made the North a swing stronghold. Unlike the Centre and the South, the North does not have a specific party which they vote for. In 1999, the North went to MCP and in 2004 they went to UDF. Came 2009, they went to DPP because they liked Bingu. They even declared the North the home of DPP.
If you have followed me well, then you will notice that in 2009 Bingu got votes from the Southern stronghold which were loyal votes to DPP and then also got swing votes from individual swing voters and extra swing votes from the northern region. As a result, his winning percentage almost doubled from about 36 per cent in 2004 to almost 67 per cent giving him an unprecedented landslide.
And when Bingu and his DPP publicly accused Northerners of being overrepresented in the civil service employment, introduced quota system and talked about the Mzuzu Corner at Chanco, the Northern block hated DPP and swung their votes away in 2014. DPP became unpopular and Bingu died, and the individual swing voters that voted for Bingu in 2009 based on his popularity of his first term also swung away their votes from APM and DPP. As a result, in 2014, APM and DPP remained with only the southern region stronghold loyal voters and went back to winning with about 36 percent again just like Bingu’s 2004.
In conclusion, the 2009 Elections did not depart from the stronghold winning formula of Malawi. Bingu was only both popular and strong and therefore got the swing votes as a bonus on top of his stronghold votes. It was like winning on two counts of stronghold and popular votes.
But you will notice that MCP still came second in 2009 with a good number. That gives evidence that Bingu did not really destroy the MCP stronghold because the party still retained good number of its loyal voters. Loyal voters remained because they did not care that Bingu was popular or not. Loyal voters vote for their party because they feel it belongs to them and they are obliged to vote for any candidate representing it.
As a popular candidate with a popular movement, Chilima will only get swing voters which will largely come from the North which swings itself anyhow, and a few swing votes from the center and south. That will not be enough to beat DPP and MCP because though we can expect that swing voters have increased due to political dynamics and demographic factors, they are still a very small minority even on national level compared with loyal voters. Loyal votes are in majority and they don’t care if their party candidate is old or bald or dead, they will still vote for their party.