The victory of Chakwera and the Malawi Congress Party in Malawi sets a precedent for opposition parties in Africa

Malawi has just sworn in their new president, Lazarus Chakwera after a controversial election. Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party won the elections with a majority of 58.57% after the Constitutional Court stepped in to address voter fraud and tampering in the elections last year. What makes this a victory for democracy is that opposition parties rarely win in Malawi or any Sub-Saharan African country. What needs to be understood is why opposition parties do not often come out victorious at elections, why does the populace continue to vote for ruling parties when their socioeconomic situations do not change. We look at South Africa and Zimbabwe’s opposition party failings whose opposition parties have been in power in their respective countries since the dawn of democracy and why Malawi’s election is extraordinary.

Malawi sets a standard for opposition parties elsewhere in Africa where they are struggling to gain political control of their country. In what has been dubbed ‘a victory for democracy,’ the Malawi Congress Party became the winners of the revote, replacing Peter Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party. An authoritarian president previously governed Malawi, and the people wanted democracy and freedom. The election sends a message to voters across Africa: that if a change is not occurring then maybe it is time for voters to give the opposition a chance to rule.

The ruling political party in Malawi was the Democratic Progressive Party under former president Peter Mutharika. The elections were initially held last year in May but were invalidated by the Constitutional Court due to vote tampering and voter fraud. A rerun was set for this year, and the Malawi Congress Party was the winner of the revote.

With South Africa despite allegations of corruption, maladministration, and cronyism, many South Africans still vote for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party. For voters the ANC symbolises liberation, and this has formed a sense of loyalty that the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition in South Africa, has not yet managed to overcome. The DA has made some progress in terms of numbers in a few provinces, but they still have not received the millions of votes which the ANC has.

The DA has failed to win the general elections because of the successes which the ANC has already made. For many South African voters, the association between the ANC and liberation, coupled with the ANC’s success in providing housing, electricity and sanitation, land reform and social grants for the poor, has formed a sense of loyalty among voters that the Democratic Alliance has not yet managed to overcome. Voters remain loyal to the ANC out of fear that these programmes will not be in place if the ANC loses power. Moreover, if they vote for the DA, the segregation and inequalities of Apartheid will come back because of the party being majority White even though more Black people are joining the DA.

What is important to understand is that if the change is not occurring then maybe it is time for voters to give the opposition a chance to rule. South Africa’s ruling party is the African National Congress (ANC). For many people, voting for the ANC is significant because it symbolises liberation and this has formed a sense of loyalty among the ANC voters to the party

Malawi also has similar issues under its former ruling party, the DA has made some progress in terms of numbers in a few provinces, but they still have not received the millions of votes which the ANC has.

The DA has failed to win the general elections because of the successes which the ANC has already made. For many South African voters, the association between the ANC and liberation, coupled with the ANC’s success in providing housing, electricity and sanitation, land reform and social grants for the poor, has formed a sense of loyalty among voters that the Democratic Alliance has not yet managed to overcome.  Voters remain loyal to the ANC out of fear that these programmes will not be in place if the ANC loses power.

The statistics also show that more older people vote for the ANC and not for the DA. Older voters identify more with the ANC as they were the main party in opposition to the Apartheid regime. The older generation finds that they can trust them more and so they will feel more loyal to the ANC. Many people in South Africa vote because they would like to see change, and they believe that it is a civic duty just like in any other country. Voting for the opposition would be a drastic change that many South Africans may not be ready for. Voters for the ruling party do not know if the DA will be as successful as the ANC has been in the past.

The Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has been declining in popularity since the 1990s. Zimbabwe does not have a strong opposition either.  Zimbabweans have been dissatisfied due to the costs of living increasing and corruption. The Zimbabwean government has been accused of excessive government spending, but this spending is not for the greater Zimbabwean population. This led to dissatisfaction among Zimbabweans against Mugabe. Zimbabwe can learn from Malawi, during their election time, the opposition parties should join forces and topple the ruling party. These parties could find that they have the same goals as they first thought.

ZANU-PF had many attractive nationalist policies such as the redistribution of land to Black Zimbabweans and more employment opportunities. Over the years, people have become less confident about change in Zimbabwe because of corruption and authoritarianism. But ZANU-PF is still in power. The official opposition party there is the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has not come into power due to voter fraud, intimidation by members of the ruling party, and violence during elections. This is no different from the repression and violence as seen by the ruling party in Malawi. There was erratic decision making in the government and corruption within the Mutharika administration with ordinary Malawians bearing witness to this.

  In Malawi what was significant was the citizens of Malawi and its various opposition parties banded together peacefully in protest of the previous election results. These two groups in Malawi saw the failings of the ruling party and wanted change which did not have to be realised through violence or intimidation. The focus of the Malawian opposition parties and the general population was achieving democracy and change and not necessarily to win but lawfully obtaining victory. In terms of South Africa and Zimbabwe, the opposition parties are usually only concentrated on their campaign and their running. This happens regardless of corruption, maladministration, and fraud.