Divorced Tonse Alliance: What next for Tonse?

In 2022, broken unity and purpose within the governing Tonse Alliance came to the fore. The year’s events provide evidence that the alliance may not be intact up to the next presidential election.

There has been a lot of infighting among supporters of the two key players in Tonse Alliance, namely Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party.

The supporters have turned to social media to discredit each other.

The excitement of winning the court-sanctioned Fresh Presidential Election held on June 23 2020 was short-lived among the supporters as it appears that MCP members seem to look at the UTM Party leader Saulos Chilima, who is the country’s Vice-President, as a threat to the longevity of their tenure at the helm while UTM supporters believe that Chilima must be President sooner than later.

The bickering was expected as the two leaders were both presidential candidates in the nullified 2019 Presidential Election in which Chilima polled one million-plus votes after dumping the then governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) almost a year to the 2019 Tripartite Elections.

Ironically, soon after their victory in 2020, the two leaders seemed to be above petty party politics. But it was not for long.

In April 2022, in an interview with Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), Chilima said he would make the hidden Tonse agreement known to the public.

This is one of the issues which attracted public criticism on why an agreement made for Malawians would be kept secret.

Chilima’s statement was indicative of an underlying problem. Not even President Lazarus Chakwera was ready to disclose what was agreed.

But it was only a matter of time as in July 2022, Chilima revealed the contents of the agreement in a publicly televised address, and hours later, the MCP politburo was at work discrediting the same.

This cast doubt on the future of Tonse Alliance.

Through Chilima’s address it was learnt that there was an agreement to rotate the presidency, saying Chilima would be the alliance’s torch-bearer in the 2025 Tripartite Elections.

“Beyond this, I would like to state that the agreement was signed for a period of 10 years in which both Dr. Chakwera and I would support one another to lead for one term. But if for any reason this was to change, a process similar to what ensued before the agreement was signed ought to follow,” said Chilima.

This came just days after Chakwera withdrew delegated duties from Chilima after his name was mentioned in the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) report submitted to him

Chakwera’s decision may have earned him praise from others as it demonstrated commitment to fight corruption, but Chilima’s supporters understood this as a ploy to cripple his number two.

The supporters thought withholding delegated duties from the Vice-President does not just cripple his office, but is embarrassing too as the public court passed a guilty verdict on the Veep.

MCP secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka, almost six hours later, issued a statement to refute what Chilima had claimed was in the agreement.

He said: “From where we stand, the Malawi Congress Party does not have, in its possession, any document that stipulates or points to the sharing of terms between Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera and Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima.

“In any case, as a law-abiding party, we will comply with the dictates of the supreme laws of the land which is our Republican Constitution.”

In June, addressing supporters at his Area 43 residence in Lilongwe, Chilima said his humility must not be mistaken for foolishness.

Supporters had gathered at his house when it was rumoured he would be arrested by the ACB. After this address, he left to attend a Tonse Alliance leaders’ meeting at Kamuzu Palace.

Meanwhile, Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Enock Chihana, a member of the alliance, has backed calls to enact a law which must govern political alliances to protect the interest of members once they get into power.

This issue started in Parliament during the just-ended meeting, but the leadership of the House ignored the question.

Chihana said Tonse’s big problem is that it is an alliance without clear terms of reference.

The Aford leader said Tonse is not a governing alliance, but an electoral one.

Said Chihana: “As Aford, we do not know our role and responsibility in this alliance beyond elections. I guess that is also the case with others, but I cannot speak on their behalf.

“Out of this, we have learnt a lesson that perhaps it’s about time we had clear legal provisions which will guide the operation of alliances. Partners should have defined roles. If it is about power sharing, it must be defined too.”

He wondered how Chilima can be called an alliance partner when he can only work on delegation.

Another Tonse Alliance member, People’s Transformation Movement (Petra) leader Kamuzu Chibambo, in September 2022 held a press conference in Blantyre where he accused the Tonse-led government of allowing ministers to draw huge amounts of fuel when Malawians are living in abject poverty.

It was interesting to hear Chibambo criticising the alliance for which he is its spokesperson.

This episode points to the fact that there are serious cracks in the alliance.

Chilima is currently facing criminal charges after the ACB arrested him in November 2022 on corruption allegations

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