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Malawi elections: Upending the pundits’ predictions

With the elections over and the incumbent president Bingu wa Mutharika sworn in for his second and last term, Malawian bloggers (Mabloga) are awed by two developments that went against the predictions of many, especially the punditry. First was the suggestion that the presidential contest would be very close. It wasn't. Second was the perception that Malawians would once again vote on regional and ethnic lines. They did not. Other fascinating aspects of the elections being discussed by the “Mabloga” include the role that Internet radio played in informing Diaspora Malawians on events as they unfolded, and what the new parliament might look like, what with a good number of the newly-elected members of parliament boasting university professorial and international civil service careers, long term PhDs, and other post-graduate qualifications.

The blog Chingwe's Hole reacts to both disproved predictions, then goes through a list of six aspects that make the May 2009 elections historic. According to Chingwe's Hole, key structures of Malawi's institutions performed well. And in marking the probable end of the political career of the 77 year-old leader of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), John Tembo, these elections also ended the era of the nationalist generation that has ruled Malawi since 1964, a point also made by Paul Tiyambe Zeleza. Tembo is reported to have already been put forward as the MCP's candidate in the next elections in 2014, according to Chris Banda on the Internet forum Malawitalk. Chingwe's Hole's third aspect is that the voting pattern was driven by substantive matters of development, over personalities, and more poignantly for many bloggers as well, over ethnicity, Chingwe's Hole's fourth and fifth historical aspects of these elections. The last aspect deals with how the punditry overestimated the strength of the main challenger, John Tembo, in his party's alliance with the United Democratic Front (UDF). On this point Chingwe's Hole unleashes pointed criticism:

And finally the elections have exposed the vacuity of some of the political punditry in Malawi. Our most cited political pundits simply do not know what they are talking about… They kept analsising politics along the same old lines and seemed to base their views based only on whim srather than research and reflection. Listening to our oft cited “political analysts” the coalition was supposed to be a formidable force; the elections would be a a”close call”; Bingu had made a fatal mistake chosing a Southern as running mate; the economy growth had not benefitted the majority etc . . .

As one of the pundits who predicted a strong showing for the MCP/UDF alliance and its candidate John Tembo, Boniface Dulani makes a confession mid-way through the vote counting when it is becoming apparent that Bingu wa Mutharika is defying expectations:

I must confess I did not expect the margin of victory that appears to be emerging from the election results as currently being announced. For all intents and purposes, Mutharika appears to be headed for a strong landslide performance. While Bingu is performing strongly in the northern region as predicted, he has also performed just as strongly in the central region and the southern region.

For Greenwell Matchaya, the incumbent's victory across the entire nation might be the beginning of the end of politics of ethnicity:

In the first place, the size of Bingu’s victory in the presence of a seemingly powerful opposition alliance is the first I have ever heard of in Africa. Furthermore, the fact that there were no any reported cases of rigging, makes his win even more credible and even more and more wonderful. Bingu’s party, the DPP, won the presidential election with roughly 2,730,630 votes while the MCP/UDF alliance scooped circa 1,270,057, almost 200,000 votes below half of Bingu’s votes [. . . ]The strong message arising from these figures is that Bingu was voted into power by the entire nation, raising postulates about whether good leadership styles could obliterate the tribal cancer that many of us thought was out to consume our political and everyday lives.

Clement Nyirenda also remarks on how the punditry got it wrong, and finds the voting pattern for the incumbent president's win epochal:

[. . . the pundits thought that John Tembo would garner more votes from the Southern region while beating Mutharika comprehensively in the Central Region, MCP’s stronghold. Mutharika was expected to carry the day in the less populous Northern Region.

At the end of everything, the pundits have been proved wrong because Dr. Mutharika was proclaimed the winner with more than 6o% of the vote. Since the advent of multiparty democracy, I have never seen a presidential candidate getting votes from all the corners of the country like this.

And words of awe continue with Cryton Chikoko, who writes in the third person with the alias “Rambler”:

Rambler has to confess he was not expecting Malawians to vote on merit. Admittedly Rambler wrongly thought that just like in the previous elections regionalism will rule the day. The 2009 elections have come to him as a pleasant surprise. A fresh breath in our politics.

Victor Kaonga pays tribute to the role that radio stations played in informing listeners of the results during the long breaks waiting for the Malawi Electoral Commission. On Malawian Internet listserv forums, appreciation for the role of radio stations has especially focused on Zodiak Broadcasting Station, which broadcasts across Malawi, and recently started streaming live on the Internet. Listserv discussions have also widely debated what parliament might look like, given the large number of highly educated Malawians who have been elected to parliament, a topic also discussed by Chingwe's Hole. On the Internet forum Nyasanet, the question of who will be chosen to fill cabinet posts is being debated on the basis of the intelligentsia voted into the legislature, which is being likened to an academic symposium. Blogger Kondwani Munthali has already provided his dream cabinet list.

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