By Gregory Gondwe
On September 6, 2011 Rumphi Central Constituency went to the polls in by-elections that replaced the former Member of Parliament for the area Prof. Moses Chirambo who died in August last year.
In short, the Rumphi elections came and went. Enock Kamzingeni Chakufwa Chihana who stood on the ticket of the Alliance for Democracy – AFORD, triumphed over three other candidates.
The three Enock out muscled, include Norman Malonda-Nimaso Nyirenda who came breathing on neck of Chihana as second best with the well resourced ruling Democratic Progressive Party – DPP that backed his campaign and candidature.
Appearing for the first time in the political elections was the northern region political party the People’s Development Party (PDM) which everyone thought would carry the day with its candidate Peter Chihana.
The CCAP church of the Livingstonia Synod and a Catholic priest of the Mzuzu Diocese came into the open during the elections and declared their support for PDM.
Chidumba Mkandawire was another candidate representing People’s Party (PP) which was high flying what with the squabbling towards its establishment which made it registered in court and its leader Vice President Joyce Banda who was suffering scorn and rejection from President Bingu wa Mutharika and his party in the processing helping its popularity.
It was believed that this would have catapulted the party’s candidate to stardom by means of a sympathy vote.
Political Machinations & Reality
Top brass of the CCAP Livingstonia Synod and Father Eugene Ngoma of the Catholic Church declared their stand in Rumphi at the launch of a campaign rally for the party; apparently all what they said to persuade voters fell on deaf ears.
Former Moderator of the Church Rev. Mezuwa Banda said since the former MP of the area late Prof. Moses Chirambo was buried on August 20, 2010, they decided to launch the campaign on the same day.
The day that the former MP of the area late Prof. Moses Chirambo was buried on August 20, 2010, was also the day that leader of the CCAP church of the Livingstonia Synod Rev. Levi Nyondo was arrested for what he had said at the funeral.
Mezuwa Banda said August 20, 2011 on that Saturday was the day the northern region based Political party decided to launch their campaign for their candidate Peter Chihana was not a mere coincidence.
“This by-election is coming because of the death of the MP of the Area Prof. Moses Chirambo who was laid to rest on 20 August 2010. Today is 20 August 2011 the day that we of the CCAP church remember the arrest of our leader Rev. Levi Nyondo,” said Rev. Banda before adding:
“This is a day which is so meaningful to us. If someone arrests a leader of Ecclesia, then it means he has turned against the whole church.”
Father Eugene Ngoma of the Catholic Church of the Mzuzu Diocese who also heads the Church’s Community Radio Tigabane in Mzuzu also made his declaration and attempted to clear the question of their involvement.
“Many of you will be surprised that why Catholic priests and reverends are found here. We are here to present a message to you here in Rumphi and the north as a whole; Political parties in the North are just too numerous because every northerner wants to be a President. This is why others thought of having a single political party where all the parties are supposed to join and vote for and that party is PDM,” explained Ngoma.
Besides the message that they want the party to become a northern block, the religious leaders had no kind words for President Bingu wa Mutharika leadership.
The current Deputy Secretary General of the Synod Rev. Maurice Munthali said as religious leaders their primary objective is to get rid of evil and replace it with good.
“So we thought we had elected a leader who will administer proper medication. But we are getting poisonous injections. As Church leaders we cannot keep quite when things are going astray. We are the salt of the earth. Bingu has dissolved this salt, as the salt of the earth, there should be no one to point fingers at us that we have gone overboard. No pot of meat can despise salt,” he said.
The church took over proceedings at this particular rally. They hoped that electing PDM will revolutionise a political posture of the northern region.
PDM top brass led by Loveness Gondwe Deputy Chairperson and Secretary General Harry Mkandawire tried to convince the gathering to vote for their candidate with such religious backing.
With failure of their candidate eventually, the church and religious leaders got bruised and while the Synod was increasingly becoming a voice against government policies, their involvement and failure thereof left a gaping hole on their credibility.
“The DPP government will scoff them off now, as it will claim that they do not speak for the people,” observed a Mzuzu University political analyst.
Numbers for Victory
In the Rumphi By-Elections, numbers of voters were the basis that could give a picture of who would carry the day.
The Rumphi by-elections were a reflection of the 2009 General Elections. And in these by-elections two people were having a second go at the polls.
In 2009, 31 thousand constituents had registered to cast their vote but only over 16 thousand voters elected DPP candidate Prof. Chirambo. AFORD’s Enock Chihana amassed over 4 thousand voters as a runner-up.
The September 6 by-elections therefore meant that the battle was for the 16 thousand plus votes of the late Prof. Chirambo.
As rightly observed by AFORD campaign director Bowoyeke Munthali, AFORD supporters were never moved and hence the party had their votes waiting the polling day.
“We had our votes that were intact, while the DPP votes were to be split with its break-away shoot-outs in form of PDM and PP,” he said.
To add salt to injury, AFORD invaded the 16 thousand plus votes and amassed over 6 thousand votes for their candidate Enock while following second after him was DPP candidate Norman Nyirenda with over 3, 000 votes.
Over 2 thousand votes were casted for Chidumba Mkandawire of PP while PDM’s Peter Chihana had over a thousand votes.
Over 14 thousand people came out to vote and over 17 thousand voters shunned the by-elections.
Another number to look at is 20 which are the projects that included bridges, school blocks, roads etc that Peter Chihana PDM candidate gave the constituents in the hope that they will thank him with their votes.
His team and PDM spent over 4 million kwacha to get the coveted prize which nonetheless escaped their grasp.
The other self undoing of the PDM was internal bickering where a senior party member was going back wherever they had courted support of the potential voters to tell them to rescind their decision and vote for an AFORD candidate.
DPP had several tricks up its sleeves and it bordered on name calling and black listing other candidates, which never paid any dividends.
Why the Rumphi Elections Mattered
The Rumphi By election was the trickiest of such elections due to a number of factors relating to the four political parties contesting.
During the electoral process that included public debate and final announcement of the eventual winner Chairperson of the Commission Justice Anastasia Msosa and notably Commissioner Dick Mzumara and Ambassador Ron Nkomba were always present.
AFORD thought for it to re-launch its revival it needed success in the by elections. It had failed to take off even when it won the solitary Karonga Nyungwe Constituency in the 2009 General Elections taken by its Secretary General Khwauli Msiska.
It also realised that people were mirroring successes of its fallen Czar, if any, on the failures of the current government and the belief that he would have done something. The fielding of Enock Kamzingeni Chihana, son of Chakufwa who was also former MP of the area was not coincidental.
More so, Enock rode on the name of his father when he added Chakufwa to his names on the ballot paper. It worked.
On the other hand DPP badly needed Rumphi Central Constituency which was in its grip after the last general elections as at the moment the ruling party is trying to wade its way out of turbulent waters with poor economic and political governance.
Disgruntlement from Malawians over such failures had led to a violent protest on July 20 where 19 people were killed when the police tried to quell the situation.
The main figure in PP was not their candidate, but the leader of the party Vice President Joyce Banda.
Likewise in PDM with Harry Mkandawire as its secretary general and the church backing they had a point to prove.
More still, both Banda and Mkandawire started DPP and fell out of grace with President Bingu wa Mutharika. They both hoped to make a bold statement which was never to become a case.
Winner in the Elections
While AFORD and Enock are in jubilation that they carried the day, democracy has won tremendously, and constituents have proven a point as they said they still had to settle for Enock who was attacked by his fellow contestants that he would not be able to stay in the constituency and that he was heir to the throne of the Mwase chieftaincy in Kasungu and therefore was not to be trusted.
By Gregory Gondwe