Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Dr Lazarus Chakwera—who is also leader of opposition in Parliament—is considered a self-centred political maverick by some quarters. A cleric throughout his adult life, joined frontline politics and was elected president of the MCP in 2013, succeeding longtime MCP leader, John Tembo, now in retirement.
Chakwera’s vice is Richard Msowoya who was also elected VP of the party at the national convention in 2013. They contested in the 2014 presidential elections as presidential and vice-presidential candidate, respectively, and lost to incumbent President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika.
Malawians go to elections again next year, 2019. It is becoming increasingly clear now that Chakwera and Msowoya will not be partners again next year. Chakwera has his eyes set on Lower Shire politician and business tycoon, Sidik Muhammed Mia, to become his party vice president and ultimately his running mate in next year’s presidential elections.
Chakwera has stepped up his desire to partner Mia at the expense of the elected MCP VP and Speaker of Parliament, Msowoya. Chakwera and Mia have recently made frequent public appearances together in a sure show of solidarity with each other.
They have shared the podium in the north, centre and southern region, includIng addressing a joint political rally at Lunzu in Blantyre, attended a Church service in Limbe and an MCP fundraising dinner dance in the city of Blantyre. In all this, there has been no show for Msowoya, which means Chakwera has made up his mind to end his political ‘love affair’ with his elected vice.
MCP will hold its national convention in a matter of weeks to elect office-bearers. So, Mia may not be an automatic VP for the party because he faces challenge from others, including Msowoya at the convention. Whether or not Mia becomes MCP VP, the writing is already clearly on the wall; it is a Chakwera-Mia candidacy in 2019.
Without delving much into MCP’s internal affairs, it is still worth noting that Chakwera’s decision to completely sideline Msowoya is an enormous risky course of action, politically. As president of the party, he ought to be a unifying figure than be seen to favour certain individuals ahead of a crucial national convention and ultimately, tripartite elections in 2019.
Against his own party’s cornerstones of unity, loyalty, discipline and obedience, Chakwera has arbitrary ‘handpicked’ Mia for his running-mate in the presidential elections. Conventional wisdom may suggest that while Mia is Chakwera’s personal preference, the Reverend should have allowed a consultative, democratic, free and fair process to take place. Openly alienating Msowoya and other perceived Msowoya followers will rip the party apart.
MCP is now obviously seized with some enormous leadership challenge. From his utterances that come few and far between, Msowoya seems he does not consider himself a lame-duck. He will not exit his space easily but will certainly put up a strong fight against his alienation. Should he lose his party position, he may attempt to throw a spanner in the Chakwera and Mia works ahead of the presidential elections.
Msowoya is well-versed with MCP politics. He is experienced too. He has served as a member of Parliament (MP) for many years. He also has been a Cabinet minister. Msowoya, therefore, has his own following; a political constituency in his own right. The likely scenario is that with Msowoya sidelined, MCP will go to the national elections next year a divided party.
Indeed, the arrival on the scene of Mia has brought about some fair amount of confidence among Chakwera faithful, hoping to garner the southern region votes. But other quarters within the party think that Mia’s presence is recipe for disaster for the party because he is considered by many as a rank outsider and only ‘buying’ his way into the MCP leadership ranks to achieve his own personal ambitions.
If Mia succeeds and becomes Chakwera’s running-mate, it will be a repeat of the 2009 when MCP presidential candidate, John Tembo, ‘handpicked’ Brown Mpinganjira of the defunct National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as his running-mate, sidelining Msowoya, who was widely tipped to partner Tembo.
Tembo’s political thinking that time was that choosing a running-mate from the densely populated southern region would win them many votes and ultimately deal a fatal blow to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate, the late Professor Bingu wa Mutharika candidate who also came from the south and all from Lhomwe belt. But Tembo and Mpinganjira lost the elections to Mutharika who won with a landslide. DPP also won a strong parliamentary majority.
Chakwera and his MCP cohorts are caught up in the 2009 ‘Tembo-Mpinganjira web’. They reckon that roping in Mia on the basis that he hails from the southern region would win them the much-needed southern region votes. It may be a fatal political miscalculation if the Tembo-Mpinganjira equation is anything to by.
Suffice to note that Mpinganjira is arguably and comparatively better politician than Mia. The latter, therefore, may not bring about the much sought after difference in 2019. Chakwera and his cohorts may be using a faulty political calculator on Mia and the southern region vote.
It depends on how Chakwera plays his cards and numbers.
Malawians’ hunger for change does not necessarily mean that they will pick anybody professing to be that change agent.
Chakwera, if he wants to ride on the change mantra and ‘new politics’, must earn his place by demonstrating that he embodies that change.
The political momentum maybe on MCP’s side right now but one wrong move—that usually comes with presumptuousness, misjudgement of the electorate, scandal and careless statements, can easily turn momentum into nightmare. Only time will tell.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :