The obvious take on the first day of vote counting is that of shock and disbelief by most Malawians. Unofficial poll results strongly indicate that most commentators, analysts and journalists got their predictions wrong. This underlines the importance of polls rather than predicting electoral outcomes based on past experiences, perceptions, personal prejudices and political party attendances. It is time Malawi, especially the media start commissioning polls. This is part and parcel of electoral process.
Malawi media this time wasted their precious time debating legitimacy of various polls, which flooded social media and filled precious editorial pages even though some journalists openly questioned legitimacy of these polls. ‘Bogus’ polls would have no space in the mainstream media if the media commissioned their own. By the time of writing, unofficial results looked more like vindicating Afrobarometer’s poll. Reality may yet be different by the time official elections results are announced, but their poll is the closest yet.
The unofficial results from the first day of vote counting shows that so far Malawi Congress Party’s (MCP) Lazarus Chakwera is getting what most Malawians thought he would get. At the same time these figures suggest that commentators underestimated people’s dislike of Joyce Banda’s People’s Party (PP). The number of senior PP officials that are losing their parliamentary seats is colossal. The unofficial results also suggest that commentators over-played United Democrat Front (UDF) and Atupele Muluzi’s popularity. Muluzi and his party are fairing badly. This means that most of the votes predicted for Joyce Banda and Muluzi have gone to Peter Mutharika and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who have performed beyond most people’s expectations.
So far almost all the analysis has focused on presidential elections and much less on parliamentary elections, almost zero on local government elections. Yet, parliamentary elections are equally important and interesting, too – and not only when big-names have fallen. From the unofficial results, which are very patchy insofar as parliamentary elections are concerned, it is difficult to see any political party having absolute majority in parliament. Parliament should be a very interesting place, especially if section 65, which stops MPs joining other parties work this time around.
At the time of writing (with majority of the votes still to be counted) the unofficial polls suggested that the presidential contest had narrowed to Chakwera and Mutharika (names not in any order). This indicates that Malawi is likely to have a strong opposition. Strong opposition can only be a good thing for Malawi, if politicians in parliament don’t decide to shake hands and have ‘gentlemen agreement’ on what to be done. Opposition parties have always been the weakest link for sometime in Malawi politics.
Baring few hiccups in the electoral process, which have taken voting into a third day (few centres in Lilongwe and Blantyre had not voted at the time of writing), Malawi Electoral Commission has been quick to acknowledge its shortfalls and so far it looks like these hiccups have no bearing on electoral outcome – barring the fact that delayed announcement of results may test stretch people’s patience, both ordinary folks and politicians.
Winners will have a huge task and very little time to celebrate. Everything in this country needs fixing. Those that will form the next government must be aware that Malawians have little patience these days and they have become ever more demanding. If these elections were held only 24 months ago, Joyce Banda would have probably won with a landslide. That is how fast political fortunes and people’s goodwill can change in this country. This is a clear warning for the incoming president, but then the remedy is simple: govern according to people’s will and everything will take care of itself.
Jimmy Kainja is an academic, current affairs writer and blogger. He is interested in news media, communications, and political & social changes, particularly Malawi.