Malawi Vice President Joyce Banda traces her lifetime commitment to the economic empowerment of women to a childhood spent in the village.
Fifteen opposition parties are holding talks to form a coalition and field one presidential candidate against Malawi’s ruling DPP in 2014 elections.

The parties include People’s Party (PP) of Vice-President Joyce Banda, United Democratic Front (UDF), People’s Progressive Movement (PPM), Alliance for Democracy (Aford), Congress for Democrats (Code), Republican Party (RP), New Republican Party (NRP), Malawi Democratic Party (MDP), People’s Transformation (Petra), Malawi Forum for Unity and Development (Mafunde), Congress for National Unity (Conu) and United Front for Multiparty Democracy (UFMD).

Representatives of the coalition said in an exclusive interview in Blantyre on Wednesday that they also intend to include MCP in the coalition. But MCP president John Tembo said on Friday that the party will have to meet first to discuss the possibility of joining the coalition.

“The grand coalition shall aspire to galvanise member parties to focus on a unitary vision that will work towards a pre-election coalition that will favour a common approach,” said Mark Katsonga, PPM president who is also serving as a rotational chair for parties in the coalition for March.

“The grand coalition shall work with all organisations, institutions and individuals in Malawi and diaspora who fervently believe in a better Malawi for all.

“It is, therefore, inviting all interested members wishing to work with the grand coalition as either partners or associate members or indeed coalition partners to come forward and apply for membership. Individuals who are members of political parties in the grand coalition shall automatically be members of the coalition.”

Katsonga was in a delegation which included Petra president Kamuzu Chibambo, UDF second vice-president Humphrey Mvula, secretary general of NRP, Steve Malamba, and UDF first vice-president Sam Mpasu.

Choosing presidential candidate

Katsonga said the coalition is in its formative stages and will discuss and refine various attendant issues including steps to ensure a united grand coalition and how best to choose a presidential candidate. He said they are studying various models on the choice of the presidential candidate, including those used for a similar purpose in Kenya and Venezuela.

“Learning from the past and from within and outside Malawi, we will not rush into that [choosing the candidate]. We are desirous to have a candidate. We have plenty of work to do before we come up with modalities on the choice of the candidate. We shall approach the leadership issue after formation,” he said.

Katsonga said the opposition parties have realised that facing the 2014 elections separately against the DPP is a “stupid” thing which leaves slim chances of winning.

He said they have formed the coalition two years before the elections to avoid repeating mistakes of 2004 and 2009 when alliances formed close to the elections failed to unseat the candidate for the ruling party.

‘We will consult on candidate’

Mvula said the choice of the presidential candidate will be democratic. He said the coalition will even consult on the best model to take when choosing the candidate.

But it is not very clear whether UDF, rocked by an internal rift which has seen Atupele Muluzi, son of the former President, vying to stand as a presidential candidate for the party against the wishes of members, will enter the coalition as a united or divided party.

Mpasu described Atupele’s campaign as an internal issue within UDF which should not worry Malawians.

“This is not the time for the UDF to choose its presidential candidate,” Mpasu said. “We want to deal with real issues and not personalities.”

Mpasu said “the brutality” that was inflicted on lawyer Ralph Kasambara by government galvanised the opposition parties because it came hardly a year after the July 20 anti-government protests in which 20 people died.

“We realised that as opposition members, we were letting the nation down if we did not take this man [Mutharika] head on,” said Mpasu.

‘Bingu’s govt caused pain’

He said Mutharika’s government has caused Malawians a lot of pain, citing the dwindling economy, disregard of rule of law by the President, enaction of oppressive laws to gag the media, shortage of forex and fuel, high prices of basic commodities and poor bilateral relations with Britain and neighbouring countries.

Spokesperson of the Atupele faction of UDF, Ken Ndanga, said on Thursday, UDF cannot commit itself to any alliance or coalition until a national conference decides so before the end of the year.

“Delegates at the national conference will have to decide on that and not just a few individuals. The conference will also have to choose a presidential candidate,” said Ken Ndanga.

‘We are not scared’

Secretary general of the ruling DPP, Wakuda Kamanga, said: “We are not scared. It is better, we will have one target to hit. The opposition parties are at liberty to form a coalition but if the whole intention is to unseat DPP, then they have lost the focus. They should unite to fight poverty.”

On the poor political and economic governance claims by the opposition, Kamanga hit back: “What is governance? Then the whole world is guilty of bad governance. We did not define what good or bad governance would mean in Malawian context. We cannot even measure what is good governance and what is bad governance. Until we do that, we shall even confuse future generations.”

Coalition feasible but…

Chancellor College political analyst Joseph Chunga said on Thursday the idea of the coalition was feasible but cautioned the parties to choose the presidential candidate democratically and not at a negotiation table.

Chunga said the political parties must have enough experience on coalitions and urged them to use that experience to organise the current coalition better.

Opposition parties formed the Mgwirizano coalition in 2004 with Gwanda Chakuamba as presidential candidate but failed to unseat government.

Chunga said given the chance to choose a leader for the coalition, he would go for new blood with new ideas.

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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