Atupele wins, but still grasping straws

There are three possible reasons Atupele Muluzi has ascended to the position of national chairperson of United Democratic Front (UDF) at the expense of other interested members, including stay-away Friday Jumbe and George Mtafu as well as tenacious, but down-on-his-luck Moses Dossi, who Atupele trounced during the elections held at the conventions.

The first reason for winning the polls could be that Atupele is the son of former president and retired UDF national chairperson Bakili Muluzi.

I know Atupele and his henchmen may try to spin this fact, but they will have a hard time sexing-up the young Muluzi’s meteoric rise as having been propelled by anything other than blood ties to the Muluzi brand—at least within the context of the UDF—which may have given Atupele a double head-start. Still, I give him the benefit of doubt.

The second possible reason is that Atupele, who is fairly educated, exposed and bright—is a capable politician with the ability to achieve greatness on his own without his domineering father pulling strings, twisting arms, calling on favours and pressing buttons to ensure that his son has an easy ride and the ‘ownership’ of UDF is kept in the family, effectively giving another Muluzi a shot at the presidency.

Atupele Muluzi having a chat with veteran politician and leader of New Republican Party Gwanda Chakuamba

But this reason may have to be carefully tested against achievements, if any, that Atupele has chalked during his political career.

Granted, he can work up a boisterous crowd of young people as evidenced during his ‘Agenda for Change’ mantra he sold during rallies across the country.

Other than that, what else would be seen as a compelling record both in the public service and political arena for Atupele to run on? Again, I will resist the urge to pass judgment on this one as well.

The third reason might be that the contesting field was very weak, with those who would have given Atupele real competition—such as Jumbe and Ntafu—staying away.

Jumbe and Ntafu cited a pre-ordained outcome, suspicious funding of the convention and flawed organisational aspects of the event, among other reasons, for their no-show.

And when you look at who run against Atupele such as Dossi and others, it becomes clear that it was game over before the contest even started.

Did the young Muluzi win after a free and fair election within the context of the three potential reasons for emerging top? I will leave you to exercise your brains.

After trying to understand the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of Atupele’s win, the next big question is how Atupele intends to serve President Joyce Banda and her People’s Party (PP) led administration without compromising the other.

Atupele’s argument is that he should not be forced to make false choices because he can lead UDF as a separate entity and effectively carryout his work as Economic and Development Planning Minister.

Britain and Israel give us some guidance.

Conservative David Cameron and Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg have a governing relationship with the former being prime minister and the former agreeing to be the deputy.

So far, it has fairly worked well for the British people, especially considering that this was a marriage of convenience between a centre right party and a centre left party.

Of course, Clegg’s Lib Dem has very much been a junior partner and that position has only gotten more pronounced as the Conservative agenda has blanketed the smaller partners.

Of course, Clegg’s Lib Dem has very much been a junior partner and that position has only gotten more pronounced as the Conservative agenda has blanketed the smaller partners.

It is also worth noting that the Lib Dem’s political standing among Britons since joining forces with Tories has diminished along with its deteriorating clout in the governing coalition.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party had to accept working with Defence Minister Ehud Barack’s far right party and later with centrist Shaul Motaz’s Kadima Party (although it quit the coalition in July this year after sharp policy differences) as well as the hawkish ultra-nationalistic Yisrael Beitemu headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Again, these political groupings have worked fairly well as evidenced by improvements in the Israel economy and the security situation.

But the credit for that country’s relative prosperity is going to the senior partner and its leader—Netanyahu, who is set to cruise to victory early next year—according to opinion polls.

The key question for Atupele and UDF is this: Can he and his party leverage their place in government, especially given that the ministry the young Muluzi is heading is leading the implementation of the Economic Recovery Plan (ERP)? If, for example, the ERP is successful, will it be Joyce Banda taking credit. If it fails, both will bear the brunt, but Atupele will come out more bruised.

It is a risk Atupele seems ready to take. I only hope that he has calculated the risk accurately.


*The articles was published in the Weekend Nation newspaper

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