The choice of Everton Herbert Chimulirenji as running-mate to President Professor Peter Mutharika in the May 21 tripartite elections was a surprise to many members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as well as others outside the party. It was a decision that caused so many members of the DPP to momentarily lose focus and to take their foot off the pedal to process what was happening and decide what to do, particularly in view of their motivation to campaign for the party in this election.
Many people thought the people they thought as likely candidates to be Mutharika’s running-mate among DPP top gurus like George Chaponda, Joseph Mwanamveka, Henry Mussa, Sam Tembenu, Kondwani Nankhumwa, Chimunthu Banda and Bright Msaka, among others, would be bitter and would not be willing to campaign for Chimulirenji or even do something to sabotage the works of the party. It was clear the Chimulirenji factor has been a watershed moment, and in many ways a make-or-break situation for the DPP.
This thinking particularly draws from reports that had been flying about prior to the presentation of nomination papers by President Mutharika on February 8 where he unveiled Chimulirenji as his running-mate, leaving out the ‘favourites’ that people had been speculating about.
There was reported to be tension in the party as individuals, particularly some party gurus, jostled and positioned to get the running-mate position, a situation, which led to the blossoming of various power factions within the party owing to allegiances to different individuals.
However, despite this ‘low moment’ for the DPP, the party gurus seem to have recovered the ‘shock’ and decided to move on in their quest to succeed on May 21. Notable among them is Vice President for the Southern Region, Nankhumwa. He clearly seems to be forward looking and above board level of politics.
Nankhumwa appears to be a busy bee lately holding public meetings and conducting various activities to promote President Mutharika and his running-mate in lieu of the May 21 tripartite elections. He has demonstrated remarkable political maturity during the time that many members are lost with petty internal politics.
Last Sunday, on March 17, Nankhumwa as Vice President for the southern region organized one of the best patronized political rallies, at Zingwangwa Secondary School ground in Blantyre, to welcome Chimulirenji in the southern region, where he urged party members to put in extra effort to ensure that DPP is re-elected on May 21.
He assured Chimulirenji that he will always have his support as Vice President of the Southern Region, DPP’s political bedrock, and decried the attitude by some party members who continue sitting on their laurels thinking victory for DPP will come from a silver platter.
On Saturday, the day before the Sunday rally, Nankhumwa was in Ntcheu Northeast constituency whose Member of Parliament (MP) Chimulirenji. While there, he held various meetings with chiefs, party and community leaders, and addressed a rally in a bid to promote the DPP as well as the Mutharika-Chimulirenji presidential ticket ahead of elections in May.
He told the people of Ntcheu Northeast that they must be proud of their son for being appointed running-mate to Mutharika and vowed to do all he can to ensure that DPP wins this election.
Nankhumwa assured the people of his constant presence, not just in Ntcheu Northeast but the whole of Ntcheu district now that Chimulirenji will be busy criss-crossing the whole country campaigning due to his new role as running-mate to the ruling party president.
This is a mark of a true politician and completely dispels any talk of bitterness on his part over the running-mate issue. In fact, it appears the decision has given the youthful VP extra impetus to throw in everything to ensure victory for the ruling party. Nankhumwa has noticeably displayed loyalty to President Mutharika and the vision of the DPP, and has demonstrated that he can command a large following with his often unifying speeches. He does not condone politics of hate and admonishes anyone who propagates or incites political violence regardless of their political extraction. His ability to connect with the youths of this country is also regarded as an asset for the DPP, especially in view of the fact that a majority of registered voters in this election are youths.
As Southern Region Vice President for the DPP, the party’s main support base, it appears Nankhumwa is fully aware of the responsibilities that he has to ensure that this level of support is sustained. He knows what ought to be done so that people in the region should feel ownership of the party and not become disfranchised. He is articulate and knows what must be said to the people and at which times so that the support is maintained.
Although he is young and appeals mainly to the youths, it does not take away the fact that Nankhumwa is a very experienced politician with a detailed institutional memory of the DPP having risen through the ranks of the party to become Vice President for the South. He is therefore a unifying figure who Chimulirenji can also rely on as he gets into his new position and cultivates his own power base within and outside the party.
Nankhumwa’s decision to stand four square with Chimulirenji and to root for him during this campaign period, and as he takes on the extra responsibilities of being running-mate to President Mutharika, is therefore as a huge boost for the running-mate. It gives Chimulirenji an immediate platform to quickly learn the ropes of issue-based politics and to operate at a much higher plane of ground politics, which truly connects with the people.
It also to a large extent demonstrates the selfless spirit of Nankhumwa, underlined by his openness to promote the new profile for Chimulirenji and to ensure that he is well disposed with Malawians ahead of the May 21 general elections.
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