The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has shown incredible muscle to survive and adapt to political landscape, and come back when nobody expected it. President Arthur Peter Mutharika, or APM as his supporters call him, has always risen to the challenge, defied the odds and pulled survivor instincts.
Mutharika came from the negative popularity of the DPP, including people celebrating the death of his brother, to unseat a President in a direct ballot and pip long time main opposition to second in 2014.
Largely Mutharika benefitted from the DPP infrastructure legacy of his brother late Bingu, unpopular cashgate scandal by his predecessor Joyce Banda, food shortage and unorganised Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
Mutharika made some mega promises, like Community Colleges, New Universities, Nsanje City Port, Presidential powers reduction, new Mzuzu and Chileka airports and others.
To Mutharika’s credit, he has delivered at least 50% of his promises especially infrastructure development, stabilised the economy and largely provided the most calm leadership Malawi has had for a while. We don’t hear Presidential rants on TV everyday, we are now used to a President whose tenure includes a record cut in his personal salary and less travels.
But 2019 watershed elections present something different. There is debate about his age. There are fights in DPP which mainly are about 2024 succession and then there are new comers and old timers in Politics.
APM is facing the biggest challenge yet. He will be rated for his performance the past five years, he will be facing his own deputy of five years, he will face youthful voters convinced that it is time for young people, and finally he will face questions about his team, many seen as tribalists who want another Lhomwe to succeed him.
In 2009, Bingu paired with Joyce Banda who had two hats, married in the North but from Zomba. The magic worked, he got a landslide victory. Those options in current Cabinet of 20 is wanting, very few Ministers have tried to curve a national image like the team of 2009 did to Bingu. Many Ministers and senior DPP officials are busy axing each other.
With Chilima and Manganya pair trying to tap both the Youth and Lhomwe vote, while Chakwera and Mia will try to get more in Lower Shire and Blantyre and Joyce Banda trying to spoil everyones chances, Atupele Muluzi and his UDF remain the safest pair of coalition for DPP.
AAM as Atupele is known, is a lovable face, but he has also a political base which PP and UTM does not have. He has Eastern Region and likely he would amass anything between 500,000 to 700,000 votes. Imagine Mangochi Central alone is 53,000 votes, which is almost all of Ntchisi or Nkhatabay or Chitipa.
The next election will be about figures and political base. With projected UTM disturbing in Balaka and Ntcheu and Northern Region, MCP making inroads in Lower Shire, all of which gave DPP and APM votes, Mutharika needs a recovery plan to make it on May 21. AAM has the votes.
Again, the challenge is on APM to provide his leadership and guarantee that he gets his final term and retire a happy man. After May 2019, Ministers and other officials can sort each other for 2024!