Southern Region: 2,639,783
Central Region: 2,463,703
Northern Region (Minus Rumphi): 827,777
“For the North, it has always found itself on the wrong side of political tide because they fail to unite and understand that you can only claim what you own. They don’t own the Government and I moved in to bring that balance they have rejected Aford,” Chakufwa Tom Chihana told me in an interview soon after 2004 general elections.
Now its seems the battle for 2009 elections will be fought in the Northern Region, with its 700,000 votes probably delivering a verdict on who becomes a President come 19 May, and probably who forms a largest coalition in Parliament.
Northern Region has 31 seats and its voting influence extends to three more constituencies in Kasungu North, North North and North East while in Nkhotakota it managed to influence Nkhotakota North constituency, bringing in a total of 35 seats to bargain with.
Posterity has not favoured the region in terms of its decisions however, with some prominent leaders accusing each other of not supporting their own in preference to “other regions.”
In 1994 and 1999 elections Aford retained almost all seats, but lost them all to different parties like PPM, UDF, its breakaway Mgode and RP. The main reason was that voters thought the late Chihana had sold them and the breaking of Aford led to the party to count its political losses far greater than all the three parties in 1994 national assembly.
Since independents, the Northern Region has dominated national politics and has weighed heavily on the wrong side of posterity starting with Orton Chirwa, Kanyama Chiume, Chisiza brothers Dunduzu and Yatuta and Aleke Banda.
They paid dearly for their decisions to question late Hastings Kamuzu Banda policies after inviting him to lead them against the colonial Government. As if it was not enough, Nkhatabay, the home of Chirwa, AKB and Chiume would be the venue to propose Kamuzu as a life president.
The decision to have a life presidency by the region did not help matters so as the same decision by Inkosi ya Makosi Mbelwa II to christen Kamuzu as Ngwazi on his arrival in 1958.
The region suffered segregation and the much touted quota system for the University was allegedly targeting the region. The icing on the cake was the MCP decision in the late 80’s that teachers should be teaching in their homes of origin which saw hundreds of northerners being “expelled” back home.
“We thought lessons had been learnt, but a few years later greed gave way to the free lessons that kanthu nkhako,” says Agnes NyaGondwe a long time MCP secretary for Rumphi.
True soon after elections late Chihana dragged Aford into an alliance with the MCP to fight the UDF administration. Late Chihana had just christened MCP as a party of “death and darkness” a year earlier. But he had answers to his decision “in politics you have no permanent enemies or friends.”
A year later he was dining with Bakili Muluzi as second vice president, a party he had labelled “of rapists and murderers” and he lost Mzimba east constituency in a bye-election a protest vote which awarded the seat to MCP.
Chihana never learnt from history, he went to bed with MCP again in an electoral alliance before committing the third largest mistake which left all sensible Malawans dumbfounded- Aford was proposing an open term bill.
Khwauli Msiska was chosen for the task that will break Aford for good and true to the rumours, on Thursday, 4th July 2002 he stood in Parliament and said, “I have deliberately typed this statement that I am delivering in this Honourable House Empowering the Electorate. I have done so in recognition of our people’s determination to courage, and capability to choose the right course for a democratic process.”
The bill was to benefit Bakili Muluzi who in 2009 is still attempting a third term after rejection of it by the church, political and civic leaders who were terrorised for their position, which Msiska proudly stood for in 2002. It was a nail on Aford’s coffin.
The region opened up to all parties and apart from the Presidency which went to Chakuamba any party such as Petra, UDF, NDA, PPM, RP and Mgode all claimed seats with Aford coming out a loser with six seats.
In 2005, Bingu wa Mutharika broke from the UDF and when he launched his DPP some mothers later, almost all members of Parliament except for MP for Likoma George Nga Mtafu, PPM MP’s and Loveness Gondwe as Aford went to Government benches.
In simple mathematics out of 70 MP’s claimed to be DPP, almost half came from the Northern Region. Harry Mkandawire and others went a step further to proclaim the region proudly at Jenda in Mzimba “the home of DPP.”
Rumours gave birth to speculation, speculations to hope and hope to belief. The North was DPP and DPP’s base was the Northern Region. Bingu picked his cabinet with Mzimba, Karonga and Nkhatabay getting a fair share of cabinet posts. Only Rumphi was left out and Chitipa had a deputy ministerial post added to it later on.
Just like with late Kamuzu Banda, Inkosi ya Makosi Mbelwa the fourth, would follow his forefather and crown Mutharika as the second Ngwazi in the republic. This was a perfect tonic to the region.
But the belief was that come to runningmate, DPP would pick Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe or at least Henry Chimunthu Banda, from Nkhotakota North. Bingu had others ideas, he picked a southerner Joyce Banda.
“It will be an interesting time for the region to see how they will react. All the parties have rejected the region or does not really see the value of the 700,000 votes it can bring,” Yeremiah Chihana who addressed a group of shocked northerners at Area 18 filling station said on Friday soon after Bingu’s announcement.
But the DPP, with Banda has added another hill to climb, the Central Region dominated by the MCP and whose President John Tembo talks of “looking after your kraal first before you go out.”
It will be difficult for Mutharika, whose regional governor Bintony Kustaira formerly of MCP must convince the region that DPP belongs to them more than MCP which will take the region to presidency again.
Just like Tembo is not expected to gain much with Mpinganjira in the Lomwe belt, Bingu’s decision leaves DPP leaders in the region with a hard task of converting the sceptics who already were angry with a few number of cabinet and principal secretaries who come from the region.
Muluzi only after clearing his eligibility tussle will he be able to assess the value of a Vice President from Nkhotakota, just as Cassim Chilumpha failed to move voters in Dedza, Lilongwe, Mchinji, Kasungu and Dowa to UDF in 2004 elections.
But all the three major candidates have essentially dumped the North.
Tembo and Mpinganjira pair will need to find a partner from the North who can convince the region that it will have stakes in their administration. However looking at the legacies of the two, it will be a tall order for them to find people at their rallies especially in districts like Rumphi, Nkhatabay, Karonga and Chitipa.
For Muluzi, the he cannot rely on his regional team which is essentially weak. Late Chakufwa Chihana pulled some crowds of his own. His rallies needs an additional heavyweight o convince the region that they have something to look forward to his comeback administration.
While Bingu might have thought of introducing political ideologies and issue based campaign, he has surely dashed the hope of many in the region, that selling the women empowerment line would not work this time, why should they vote for woman veep when they can get a president in the name of Loveness Gondwe.
Bingu who in all essence that the best advantage as the last presenter to correct the situation seems not to read the political terrain very well, that he has a huge task to convince the region that his decision was influenced on merit.
Already performance of Goodall Gondwe as Finance Minister, Henry Chimunthu Banda as a Minister and Leader of the House are far being contrasted with those of Joyce Banda both at the Ministry of Gender and Foreign Affairs.
Bingu’s decision in short term will send Malawi back to 1994 elections where regionalism shall rise again with MCP entrenching its hold on the centre as DPP will be difficult to sell.
DPP’s strongest point was that it was formed by all regions and everybody owned it since it came late on the political scene, now it belongs to a particular region sidelining the North and the Centre.
While Eastern Region, including Zomba will definitely return to UDF, Bingu can be assured of Thyolo, Blantyre city, Mulanje, Mwanza, Phalombe and parts of the Lower shire.
Chiradzulo and Blantyre rural will split between the parties while New Republican Party should do well in Nsanje, though the DPP and MCP might claim some seats.
The North is where the election will be decided, now that none of the major parties and presidential contenders has running mates from the region, they will need to campaign hard to get the regions vote.
Otherwise this might be the time Aford or Petra might rise to dominate the region should voters decide that they need to form own block and bargain as a region than as part of any other party.
The difference between State House and Voters now singly lies in what could be the famous “biblical rejected stone.”