Before he launched the United Transformation Movement (UTM) in Zomba on September 9, 2018, vice president of the Republic of Malawi, who is also leader of the Movement, Saulos Klaus Chilima, paid a courtesy visit to immediate former President, Joyce Banda at her Domasi residence in Zomba.
The meeting sent a lot of tongues waging about a possible working arrangement between the former People’s Party (PP) and UTM in lieu of the tripartite elections next year. The meeting came in the midst of rumours that DPP is seriously courting other political parties such as the UDF of Atupele Muluzi and PP of Joyce Banda to establish a possible working alliance.
However, the question that people are asking is whether Joyce Banda and her People’s Party would work with DPP considering the history of the two political parties. As much it is said that there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics, Banda and DPP have had an interesting relationship that is worthy looking at in order to understand the bigger picture and context of whether a political alliance between the two parties can work.
The relationship between Banda and DPP cannot be looked at without interrogating the relationship that existed between the former president and the original patriarch of the DPP, Bingu wa Mutharika. We cannot take away the fact that JB was already a politician in her own right and building a profile for herself as a global citizen.
It was, however, Bingu who made her to be where she is when he chose her to be his running-mate in the 2009 general elections. This single gesture from Bingu was probably the major defining moment in JB’s life, which catapulted her profile into local and international prominence. This relationship deteriorated into a cat-and-mouse chase. It started with accusations by the DPP that JB was establishing parallel structures in preparation for the establishment of her own political party culminating into her eventual firing from DPP in 2010.
JB suffered various sorts of intimidation at various levels at the hands of the DPP and its operatives, until when God decided to intervene by plucking Bingu from our midst. When she became president after the death of Bingu, JB, somehow, decided to get things even with her main political opponent–the DPP. Under her reign, some of the top DPP officials, including Peter Mutharika, now president of the republic, were arraigned for various charges including treason. Many political commentators viewed that as payback time for JB.
Incumbent President Mutharika has also said it publicly that his brother, Bingu, regretted having Joyce Banda as a vice president.
As much as it is documented that Cashgate happened under her watch when she was president, it is a fact that JB is perhaps the only president who recorded visible strides in as far as fighting corruption is concerned.
As soon as unexplained boxes and stacks of money started pitching up in people’s car boots, her government was swift in arresting perpetrators and to put them through trial under the laws of the land. She is the one who invited renowned British firm, Baker Tilly, to carry out a forensic audit of IFIMIS, the government’s accounting and financial management operating system, which was manipulated by some civil servants and business people to defraud government of funds amounting to billions of Kwacha.
She also made some structural changes in government to tackle corruption, including the creation of ministry of transparency and accountability in Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC). This made her to be the only president in this country who genuinely and comprehensively fought corruption gallantly.
Despite her efforts, it was the DPP, which mounted a vigorous campaign to paint JB as a corrupt leader and godmother of cashgate simply because the ‘bubble was busted’ during her reign.
Many people have suggested that cashgate propaganda against JB may have impacted negatively on her 2014 election chances. When DPP came to power, JB once again became the target of DPP victimization.
So many accusations were levelled against her and her family including an accusation that she killed Bingu in 2012.
Whilst she was outside the country in what others called a self-imposed exile, a warrant was also issued for her arrest for crimes bordering on cashgate and others not clearly defined.
With this acrimonious background between JB and DPP, it is very unlikely that the former president may want to form an alliance with DPP because her bitterness towards the party may still very strong.
So, if there may be any possibility of an electoral alliance, it should either be between PP and MCP or PP and UTM. However, it is more likely for JB to warm up to Chilima and his UTM than MCP if SKC’s courtesy call on JB last month is anything to go by. The two camps have also been talking the same language on some crucial policy issues like the 1 million jobs.
A more defined working framework with UTM maybe out of the question even if JB decides not to be on the ballot because she has been president and vice president of this country before and becoming running-mate to Chilima would be inconceivable.
It is also very unlikely that Chilima can accept to become running-mate to Joyce Banda in the current political scenario.
Some people believe that an endorsement of Chilima by the former president would go a long way towards boosting political chances for Chilima and UTM, particularly among women, which is the main support base for Joyce Banda.
It is important to recognize that women are the biggest voting demographic in this country and also the main population group, which has come out in large numbers to register in order to vote in next year’s tripartite elections.
However, alliances or not, it is clear that JB has her eyes set on the country’s top job again if her recent political ‘excursions’ are anything to go by. In the space of two weeks, JB has addressed public meetings in Mzimba is the northern region, Mangochi Boma and Makanjira where she has pulled extremely large crowds.
With the current JB’s political momentum, it is unlikely that she would ‘support’ Chilima and his UTM who are seemingly struggling to take root as a formidable political force.
The other stumbling block to a possible political marriage between PP and UTM is the long held view by PP that Chilima helped DPP rig the 2014 elections. PP and its leadership may still be nursing that grudge and it is unthinkable the two camps could get along smoothly.
Allegations of corruption and theft of public resources among some of UTM’s top officials may also scare away JB from working with Chilima’s political outfit. Some have christened UTM as DPP ‘team B’ on the premise that it is a splinter group from DPP ‘team A’, which is widely accused of corruption.
- The author is a Blantyre-based Malawian social and political commentator
- Views contained in this article are those of the author and not Nyasa Times