By Lyson Sibande
It is very clear now that the Tonse Alliance has failed to stand the test of time and Chilima and UTM are the casualties. But it was just a matter of a short while before that alliance collapsed. It was predestined to fail because of mainly three reasons:Firstly, UTM joined the Tonse Alliance only after failing to secure a partnership deal with UDF and DPP that would make Chilima candidate. Chilima and UTM did not consider MCP as a strategic partner that would preserve Chilima’s presidential interests but they got desperate towards the eleventh hour. MCP had remained the only single option of electoral partnership.
Secondly, UTM went into the alliance thinking that they are a partner of equal strength with MCP while MCP did not think the same. As result, UTM expected the kind of treatment and respect that MCP could not give as they did not consider UTM of equal strength to theirs. And thirdly, the alliance collapsed the very minute it was made because MCP and UTM failed to merge into an alliance that would field an alliance candidate. Instead, they chose to retain respective party identities and field an MCP candidate. That was a sign that both parties valued their independent-being more than the alliance.
They still needed their parties more than they needed the alliance. To understand this, you can compare with the Mgwilizano Coalition of 2004 where seven political parties including Mafunde, Mgode, RP, Petra, PPM, MDP and NUM formed an electoral alliance to challenge the ruling UDF. These parties went together to the polls as Mgwirizano Coalition and chose a candidate for the coalition. Gwanda Chakwamba who was president of Republican Party (RP) became the candidate. As a result, none of the parties fielded a candidate, but the coalition did. This is what the Tonse Alliance failed to achieve. Now, since the alliance has fallen apart what must UTM and Chilima – as the casualties – do? Chilima must disband and deregister UTM – period. You see, what Chilima needs the most is to become President of Malawi and there are many Malawians who would love to see that happen. But UTM is not the party that can make him president and it will never be. UTM is a very weak party without a regional stronghold. It relies much on popularity and intelligent voters that are mostly urban and comprise possibly 10% of the electorate. UTM will never command regional strength as it cant replace MCP in the center and cant push DPP out of the South.
And sadly, UTM cant exist beyond Chilima. But Chilima is a strong candidate. In fact, he was the strongest candidate in 2019 and he remains as such. But he needs a party as strong as himself to propel him up that hill to Sanjika Palace. In fact, It is this understanding that helped Bingu wa Mutharika to become President in 2004. Bingu desperately wanted to be president, just like Chilima. But at the UDF Convention at Natural Resource College in December 1993, party heavyweights blocked Bingu from contesting against Muluzi as candidate of UDF just like the likes of Dausi, Mphepo and Goodall blocked Chilima from contesting against APM in 2018. When this happened, Bingu became very frustrated and formed his United Party (UP) in 1997. But his party failed to nationally establish itself. It even failed to secure a district stronghold. As a result, Bingu miserably failed to win the presidency in 1999. Right away, he realized that in order to win the presidency in Malawi, one needs a political party that has at least a regional stronghold. So he humbled himself and returned to UDF.
Just like Bingu disbanded his UP and returned to UDF to get the presidency, Chilima must humble himself and return to DPP. I said it a hundred times, and I will repeat that Chilima should have stayed in DPP. He was not supposed to form his UTM. You don’t form a political party just because you are angry and frustrated that you are not being given a chance to lead. That strategy doesn’t work. Bingu tried that with UP, it failed him. Brown Mpinganjira tried that with NDA, it failed him. Aleke Banda tried that with PPM, it failed. Ngwanda Chakuamba tried that with RP, it failed him. Joyce Band tried that with PP, it failed her and the list is endless. Everyone who formed their parties out of frustration and anger to get leadership failed.
All political parties that are formed out of succession struggles and frustration never win elections and they die quickly. All the parties I have mentioned above are dead and UTM is following the path of its predecessors. Towards the Fresh Presidential Elections of June 2020, a certain official from UTM called me as they were weighing options of possible alliances. I told the official then that the best option was for Chilima to disband UTM and go back to DPP to get the candidacy. I advised that there was no way DPP could accept Chilima to be candidate if he remained president of UTM because that would make UTM the ruling party. Additionally, DPP officials could not trust that Chilima would serve DPP interests if he was President of Malawi and UTM. One would wonder that if UTM is too weak to make Chilima President, then why can’t Chilima just disband UTM and join MCP?Others like our great brother, Joshua Chisa Mbele are faithful proponents of this idea. But I disagree with this because Chilima and his party officials and supporters cannot be accepted in MCP. One of the reasons the Tonse Alliance is failing is because there is not compatibility and chemistry between UTM and MCP. Even supporters themselves don’t like each other. That is why they are always on each other’s necks for no reason at all. But UTM and DPP are created from the same DNA.
They have some chemistry. In fact, UTM, DPP and UDF are just one party. All that lacks is great leadership to unite them all. But then, on the other hand, would DPP accept the prodigal Chilima and his sons and daughters back into the wealth of the blue family? My answer is that not everyone would welcome them, but a majority would. I believe this because Chilima was never expelled from DPP and a good number of DPP officials, supporters and party youths, did not want Chilima to leave. Even those did not want Chilima to be candidate in 2019 did not really want him out of the party. They simply wanted him to be running mate of Mutharika again for the second term. I am sure DPP understands the urgent need to rebrand. None of the current leaders wrestling for party leadership can give DPP the needed rebranding to position for 2025. All of them are a waste of time. But DPP is too big to give a running mate in an electoral alliance. Chilima must go there as a DPP member to give the party a new brand while he still has the national appeal. For this to work, you would need very sober and super brilliant strategists, persuasive negotiators and excellent deal makers. How DPP and UTM could work this out, will be story of another day. For today, I rest my case!