MCP to DPP: Democratising from Autocracy or Autocratising Democracy? John Lwanda

Malawi was ruled by the ‘strong-man’ the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) led by Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who often boasted of being a dictator by the will of the people, from 1963 to 1994. Various imperatives for multiparty governance eventually forced his hand and he lost a referendum to those favouring a multi-party dispensation. In the 1994 elections, while the choice for Malawians was essentially between the ‘autocratic despot’ (Banda) and ‘wakuba yemweyo’ (a person with a previous criminal record) (Bakili Muluzi), the voting pattern revealed voting on a regional or ethnic basis. After five years of Muluzi – a period characterized by conspicuous consumption by Muluzi and his fellow United Democratic Front (UDF) elite and their Alliance For Democracy (AFORD) allies, a failure to ‘de-autocratise’ Malawi and a marked increase in corruption, the UDF used its monetary advantage to win a second term. In 2003, the UDF attempted and failed to change the constitution to enable a third term for Muluzi, but managed, in 2004, to win a closely contested election with Bingu wa Mutharika, Muluzi’s chosen successor, as the presidential candidate,. Again there was a noticeable ethnic pattern to the voting. As soon as Mutharika was in power, he distanced himself from the UDF and formed his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Between 2004 and 2009, despite the opposition harassing Mutharika’s government and blocking legislation, Mutharika managed to deliver an impressive economic performance. He managed this by co-opting any willing AFORD, MCP and UDF MPs to his cause. He also astutely exploited Banda’s legacy and memory to appeal to MCP members and to sections of Dr Banda’s Chewa constituency. In 2009, once Muluzi had been prevented from standing again, the choice was between JZU Tembo’s centre-heavy MCP and Mutharika’s southern-heavy DPP. In the event Mutharika achieved a nation-wide landslide popular win. This paper examines the economic, political, social, ethnic and other factors that contributed to Mutharika’s landslide win and speculates on whether this win is a consolidation of democracy or a possible return to autocracy.