The governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is currently facing its own ‘Aha’ movement in terms of political survival. The biggest problem is not the change of political dynamics such as the 50+1 electoral system for the triumphant presidential contende rto decided on the basis of getting a majority 50 percent plus one of the votes, neither is it the expected challenge to be mounted by the opposition MCP/UTM grand alliance. Its biggest enemy is its own internal battles, and the party stands to lose more than just the fresh elections if it does not manage its affairs very well.
It is a fact that there will be a vacancy at the top leadership of the party very soon. Peter Mutharika is currently doing his last term as President of the country and also for the DPP, and even if he wins the fresh election, he will still not be eligible to contest in the next presidential election as he would have finished his constitutional two terms. He will therefore be leaving the DPP presidency to the person the party will choose at its convention, which we are told will be held in 2023.
Which way one chooses to look at this, President Mutharika must be replaced.
Unfortunately, the DPP is not managing the succession process very well. It is an open secret that the appointment of Everton Chimulirenji to be running-mate to President Mutharika in the last disputed election was a pointer as to who some people with influence in the DPP wanted to succeed Mutharika as President although the the Malawi leader said the position would be up for grabs at the party convention.
In as much as Chimulirenji was reluctantly accepted into the upper echelons of the party, the issue brought a lot of discord among the party’s top gurus as well as within its rank and file. Many party supporters thought Chimulirenji did not deserve the post because, apart from the fact that he was a rank outsider to the core DPP politics, he also did not have the qualifications or the stature to succeed Mutharika as President of DPP, let alone to be Vice President of the country.
That being the case, many DPP members, including a lot of Malawians, expected Chimulirenji to be contented [and to consistently thank God] with what the world had unexpectedly thrown at him; they expected their Vice President to take a little longer before making any ‘creative’ political moves. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), Chimulirenji did not take time before showing that his outlook was far beyond just the Vice Presidency.
He began to throw his weight around; his dressing, body language and manner of speaking changed. He started commandeering people around and showed that he was the boss. He started calling out meetings; throwing cash around and to consolidate his power base within the party. It was also clear there were some more powerful forces within the party that were backing him and giving him the confidence as well as the platform.
Meanwhile, some top gurus in the party who were also ambitious and eyeing the top job have not been having things comfortable. Apart from Chimulirenji, some of the ambitious ones included Ben Phiri, Bright Msaka, Kondwani Nankhumwa, Dalitso Kabambe and Joseph Mwanamveka. They all subtly started dropping out of the race one by one and pledging the support behind Chimulirenji.
Not that Chimulirenji suddenly became a sleek politician or the darling of the DPP, No. It turned out he had (and still has) the support of some powerful forces in the DPP and surrounding the President. Obviously, this team is pumping money in his campaign and still making resources available for him; sometimes even directly calling and threatening those deemed to be deviants and supporting other would-be candidates. The cabal of ambitious politicians cowed out of the race like dogs with tails in between their legs.
It was only Kondwani Nankhumwa who turned out to be the odd one out by showing some political balls, but it is also the reason why he is having his political wings clipped. Nankhumwa, who is Vice President of the DPP in the southern region, used his position in the party to connect with the grassroots and to consolidate his political power base. In a political season full of anger and hate speeches, Nankhumwa’s speeches have been so far been viewed as reconciliatory and his often use of Biblical quotes to drive home his message has earned him respect even from supporters of other political parties.
It is also the reason why he has earned himself, many enemies with the ruling clique of the party, including the forces supporting Chimulirenji. He has been demonised left right and centre, and Malawians have seen an astronomical rise of an internally generated smear campaign and propaganda against Nankhumwa such as he is not loyal to President Mutharika and is about to join UTM; they even went to the extent of organising a demonstration against him in his Mulanje Central constituency just to damage his reputation – typical of Nyekhwe politics in DPP.
The recent cabinet reshuffle has also seen Nankhumwa being taken off from the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development to become Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. President Mutharika could have completely removed him from cabinet if it were not for the President’s political levelheadedness, especially considering the backlash the move would possibly have created, politically.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that Chimulirenji lost his Vice Presidency position following the Constitutional Court ruling of February 3, 2020, it appears he still holds some substantial sway in the DPP politics.
Mutharika quickly made Chimulirenji Minister of Disaster and Relief Management and his ministry is always placed on number two on all government protocols despite the fact that it is not a senior ministry. This is a tale-tale indication that Chimulirenji backers are still powerful and that they still want him to succeed Mutharika as President of DPP and President of the country. It also means they are prepared to use their might and proximity to Mutharika to fight whoever stands in their way and to get what they want – Chimulirenji as running mate. This is dangerous.
The DPP, however, is walking a very tight rope, and if there is a time that it is in danger of losing an election and power, that time is now. All the internal dog-fights that are furiously taking place in the party now will mean nothing if it will not be Peter Mutharika who the Chairperson of Malawi Electoral Commission (whether Jane Ansah or not) will announce as the winner of the forthcoming fresh elections. In fact, all the so called candidates that are throwing their weight around will scamper in different directions when Mutharika loses.
This time, DPP will have to deal with a political terrain, which will be substantially changed and even more challenging than the one in 2019. The rules of the game have changed and it is no longer first-past-the-post; it is now 50+1, meaning the party will have to win more votes than it did last year to win.
The opposition UTM, MCP and other political parties have also formed an alliance which will be far harder to beat than what DPP thinks. The party therefore cannot afford to sleepwalk into such an election or waste time with internal shadow-boxing.
President Mutharika has always been a victim of bad advice from some of the people that surround him, most of whom are graduates of the old school of thought or say political fossils such as Francis Mphepo, Brown Jame Mpinganjira, Grezelder Jeffrey, Symon Vuwa Kaunda, Hetherwick Ntaba and Goodall Gondwe, among others, who think that differing with the President on ideas and matters of principle you are an enemy. These are the people that are bringing divisions in the party due to their penchant to feed Mutharika with ‘mabodza’.
However, there is still a silver lining in the crowd for DPP only if it does certain things right within the current political context. Already, we have seen some re-organisation in the party in the appointment new Governor, Christopher Mzomera Ngwira in the northern region to replace Kenneth Sanga, and the appointment to David Kambalame to replace Bintony Kutsaira as Regional Governor in the central region. This gesture must also be extended to the southern region where Charles Mchacha is not doing any better and must be replaced.
Remember Mchacha has been accused on a number of occasions for insulting people and using foul language to target political opponents. Just recently Mchacha was involved in a spat with a journalist from The Nation newspaper over a story the reporter was investigating, and he was forced to apologize for calling the journalist all sorts of names using despicable language.
The southern region will be the battle ground for the fresh election, and the DPP needs someone with a higher work rate and a good organiser with an elevated thinking than Charles Mchacha. Free advice!Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :