Building on the previous article, this one highlights options available to the leadership of the DPP, UTM and MCP after the exhaustion of the court action. Opinions raised will remain valid even in the event that the case is not escalated any further, and the decision of the Constitutional Court is considered final.
The applicability of the opinions will, however, largely depend on some underlaying assumptions. These include a mutually shared willingness to put national interest above party or personal interests, political will to compromise, a desire to uphold the Rule of Law at all times and a genuine wish to extend an olive branch to political enemies and bury the hatchet.
I will explain how the DPP, in the event of nullification, may go for Do-Nothing Strategy or the Sacrificial Strategy. I go further to explain the uniform demands by UTM and MCP for the implementation of some electoral reforms. I also opine about the probable decision to protest against resistance for such reforms through boycott, but explore the options for participation in the probable fresh polls.
In the event of the court ruling upholding President Peter Mutharika’s contested win, I also explain how the DPP can opt to pursue a Do-Nothing Strategy or, in the interest of national cohesion, pursue the Government of National Unity (GNU) option. I further show the extent to which the UTM and MCP may embrace the GNU option.
Looking at it from the Supreme Court’s perspective, a ruling to nullify the vote will leave the DPP with the option to pursue a Do-Nothing Strategy, where the leadership does absolutely nothing to change the status quo! As part of this strategy, president Mutharika would go to the fresh polls with Everton Chimulirenji as his running mate. He would also have the option and discretion of maintaining Ansah as the Electoral Commission Chairperson.
In Kenya, this strategy worked to the advantage of the governing party but to the detriment of the opposition parties, notwithstanding their earlier Supreme Court win. After the opposition boycotted the fresh polls, the incumbent run solo and won.
However, inasmuch as Kenyatta won, over 100 people died in protests in the run up to the controversial court-imposed elections.
Given the volatile political environment, there is need to examine how the Kenyan scenario can be avoided in Malawi.
The first lesson from Kenya is that the court can only be referee on a narrow terrain – to uphold or nullify. In so doing, the court sort out a legal problem, leaving the political problem for the politicians. Unfortunately, the politicians prefer to see the ‘commoners’ take the law into their hands to leverage their bargain. If not the commoners wreaking havoc, then it’s the state apparatus.
We have seen protests turning ugly and we have seen the state agents who are subordinates of Mutharika – as head of state, he is responsible for national security (police and army) and elections (appointment of Chairperson) being accused of bias and incompetence. There has been no sanction, which could imply a rather subtle way of embracing the Do-Nothing Strategy.
President Mutharika, therefore needs to understand that the Do-Nothing Strategy is controversial and a high-risk strategy, politically speaking. It creates room for intensified political bickering, protests and possibly boycotting. This further creates room for perceived or actual abuse of authority in containing some strategic agencies to his advantage.
During his day, Bakili Muluzi, aka Political Engineer, silenced his opponents and deflated their tempers by not acting miserly. He sacrificed a bit to govern with little distraction.
Drawing lessons from Muluzi, Mutharika would, in addition to obliging to the will of the courts, give in to the will of the opposition groups. For example, this would involve taking the bold step to re-assign Ansah (note the language used: re-assign, not fire). In so doing, APM would eliminate prospects for heightened tensions and protests such that in the event of campaign for the repeat polls, the political atmosphere would be more fluid for all parties.
The Sacrificial Strategy can become more interesting if, further to the re-assignment of Ansah, Mutharika could offer not to contest.
However, looking at it from the insider perspective, the decision to opt out, taken in the absence of a solid succession plan, would put the party in disarray. In the very unlikely event that he opts out of the re-run race, the party would most likely be at a crossroads. Jostling has already (reportedly) started ahead of his exit in 2024, implying that an abrupt exit would intensify intraparty bickering.
To some extent, however, it’s unlikely that any visible revolt would emerge as was the case when the little known Chimulirenji was unveiled in sheer disregard for the party’s hierarchy.
Despite the risk, the decision for Mutharika to opt out could work out if the party can unveil a likable candidate whose appeal is beyond the DPP and the southern region demography.
In the 2014 elections, you will recall how Joyce Banda suggested that the DPP, then in opposition, had rigged the election and thus a re-run was to be held. In that new arrangement, Banda had promised to opt out of the race.
In her considered view, she was eliminating the notion of being seen as prejudiced. Her proposal was laughed off, but she made it, nonetheless.
Throughout history, numerous presidents or influential politicians across the world have made the conscious decision to not run for another term or in re-runs. Others, confident of victory, go for it, nonetheless.
Keen followers of international news would recall how opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu beat a Turkish member of the governing party in a high-stakes rerun of Istanbul’s mayoral race.
The results dealt a heavy blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party, which had called for the redo of the vote.
In Kenya, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the opposition, nullifying the controversial vote. But instead of going to the polls, Raila Odinga pulled out of the re-run race against Uhuru Kenyatta arguing that the election would not be transparent, free and fair as the country’s Supreme Court had ordered.
Would it be in the best interest for either MCP’s Lazarus Chakwera or UTM’s Saulosi Chilima to back off after putting such a gallant fight at the court? Would they both agree to a power-sharing deal, as in Government of National Unity (GNU)? What would be the situation in the event one of the opposition parties succeeds and another does not?
Upon reviewing my illustration above (Endgame: Political Options Available), you will note that a proposal for structural overhaul at the Electoral Commission (EC) starting with the removal of Ansah is a unique demand of the opposition, whatever the outcome of the court action. This is an example of a political problem.
This suggests that resolving structural issues at the EC would be a prerequisite for a more credible election in the event of fresh elections and any subsequent elections in the event of an upholding decision. Would the UTM and MCP be comfortable to go to the polls even if Ansah is still the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission? On the other hand, would President Peter Mutharika be willing to fire Ansah? Does the different views between Mutharika and the opposition pose a legal problem or its still a political problem?
This also reminds me of a fallacy that has been created in the wake of the 2019 elections case. The country’s electoral body should be independent. How can it be said to be independent when the president, who is a likely player in a game, assumes a greater role in choosing an umpire who, by any means, is supposed to be neutral? Conversely, how can the losing and other disgruntled participants interfere with the process of somebody purporting to be acting within her mandate?
For the time being, Mutharika faces more of a moral than a legal dilemma. Should he submit to the whims of his opponents when the law clearly backs him on who and when to fire or hire the chairperson of the EC? Should the law be changed?
As explained in the previous article, interests of indirect complainants such as the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) need to be properly managed – less and less confrontation.
Power Dynamics: Sharing Vs Snatching
Interestingly, all the parties are using the argument that the will of the people must prevail.
However, this seems like a diplomatic way of justifying their desire to monopolize the power to govern. The DPP, MCP and UTM all want power to themselves. This greed is propelled by our “Winner Takes All” system.
With each of the players pursuing this approach, conflict is bound to always exist.
But with compromise, achieved through a willingness to share power away from the Us vs Them Paradigm, formation of a Government of National Unity (GNU) as a way to reduce inter-party tensions is an option.
Used tactfully and carefully, the DPP may be seen to work on re-distributing power, poach new political talent thus regain broader appeal and rebuild on the go.
While anything is possible in politics, on a scale of 1 to 10, I would fairly rank the possibility of this ever happening at 3 out of 10. The level of intolerance is deep-rooted. Sacrifice for the greater good is not an option. Not even prayers have helped!
Should the opposition parties choose to turn down the GNU offer or if the DPP opted to keep power to itself, then the opposition may, in retribution, plot to initiate an impeachment at some point.
Impeachment, however, can only succeed where the president is considered to have breached the constitution as laid down on Section 86 Sub-Sections 1 – 2 and as outlined on Section 208 (1) of Standing Orders of Parliament.
For this, the opposition parties will require a ‘sponsor of the motion’, one-third of MPs to sign the motion and two thirds of MPs to vote in favor of the impeachment motion, the using secret ballot method.
Mutharika survived impeachment in relation to the K 2.7 billion food ration scam prior to last year’s elections.
Impeachment, is probable, but a tough call. Firstly, there has to be grounds. Secondly, two thirds of the 193-strong Parliament have to vote for it. Based on 2018 election results, DPP had 62 MPs, MCP had 55, UTM had 4, PP had 5, Aford had 1 and 55 MPs were recorded as independent.
Arithmetically, the opposition would require about 130 votes to successfully impeach Mutharika. As you can see, independent MPs are the main decider. Since their loyalty is not clearly pronounced, they make prediction quite challenging.
To be safe than sorry, the DPP may use divide-and-conquer tactics, avoiding archrivals MCP and reach out to independent MPs and still form a GNU arrangement. This arrangement may still be safe – even in the face of Section 65 which bars MPs from crossing the floor.
Nonetheless, this option has its challenges. Wooing independents may require appointments into cabinet thereby requiring extensive resources. The DPP would, therefore, need to tread carefully lest it be accused of abusing taxpayers’ money and disenfranchise itself from the voters.
A more formal GNU can greatly help the DPP to acquire the numbers among the independents, thereby harnessing prospects for new political partnerships to help mitigate potential threats for impeachment procedures by the grudge-keeping opposition.
You will note that when it comes out of court, UTM is weaker in as far as impeachment is concerned. However, the fact that the party earned over 1 million votes in the presidential race should be clear warning against dismissing their voice, altogether! Imagine the consequences of part of the 1 million mass partnering with the other political groups and the likes of the HRDC.
Otherwise, failure to resolve the issues sooner will result in sustained bickering with potential to rob the nation of lives, opportunities for peace and economic growth. If this happens, everybody loses. If not immediately, then at some point later.