We are now in the season when Malawian politics throws so many things at us that it becomes difficult to swallow everything. Election season is here and the issue of running-mates is the one which is beginning to overload the air because pretty soon (actually in three weeks time) all presidential candidates will be required to name their running-mates whether they like it or not. Like a pregnancy secret, it cannot be hidden beyond nine months whether one likes it or not.
Except for the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which has already revealed that Muhammad Sidik Mia will partner Lazarus Chakwera on their presidential ticket, we are yet to know the running-mates for the major political parties like the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), UTM, People’s Party (PP) and United Democratic Front (UDF). What is coming out from these parties are just common speculations and dog-fights as individuals are positioning themselves to be running-mates for their presidential candidates.
As a ruling party, DPP has also not been spared from these common rounds of speculations, and the latest has been news that there is a group of people within the party, which is lobbying Mutharika to pick Minister of Justice, Samuel Tembenu, as hisrunning-mate on May 21. The group is actually planning to issue some kind of petition to Mutharika to drive home its message. In a democracy, this group has every right to propagate for the candidate of its choice, and it is within its rights.
However, unlike the previous elections, this election presents a watershed moment for DPP. Apart from the fact that it is a litmus test of its performance, the ruling party will go into these elections with a hugely re-configured vice presidency department from the one it won the 2014 election with. It is thus imperative that it walks the running-mate journey with utmost care because it is where it can come out stronger and win these elections or to be split down the middle and face a disaster at the polls.
Malawians have always considered regions as a factor in elections because people have always voted along regional lines. It would therefore be catastrophic for any political party in this country, more so any presidential candidate, to ignore the regional factor when choosing a running-mate for these elections. However, whether region or no region, Mutharika is spoiled for choice because there appear to be many capable individuals from all regions within the DPP to choose from as hisrunning-mate.
From the northern region, Goodall Gondwe is now old as an octegarian and therefore likely out of contention as running-mate to President Peter Mutharika this time, but most senior person from the region in the party hierarchy is Treasurer General, Jappie Mhango. As much he mostly makes the right noise and appears loyal to Peter Mutharika and the DPP, Jappie comes down as the biggest party apologist and often overdoes it. He has also been criticized as an often divisive figure and not particularly a man of the people compared to other regional gurus like Khumbo Kachali or Richard Msowoya. His other disadvantage is that he comes from a ‘minority’ region where the ruling party does not draw much support.
From the central region, the main contenders are the party’s Vice President for the centre, Uladi Mussa, and the man whose campaign appears to be already in full swing, Samuel Tembenu. Uladi Mussa has the advantage of being the more ground politician with the people, and evidence of this can be drawn from how he trounced Tembenu at the party’s convention last July for the position of Central Region Vice President. He is also eloquent and experienced at mobilization politics and, being an MP, it means he comes with a more visible constituency and political base than Tembenu.
However, critics have accused Uladi of being a very unstable politician. Since he became MP almost 20 years ago, he has been to almost all the major political parties in this country. With the exception of perhaps MCP, Uladi has been a member of UDF, PP and DPP (for the second time). In fact his ‘Chenji Golo’ nickname denotes someone who changes goalposts at will and indeed he is a political nomad.
Uladi Mussa also faces accusations of being a greedy and power hungry politician who cannot be trusted; not long ago he attempted to wrestle power from PP President, Joyce Banda, when the former President made Mussa acting President whilst she was in exile in the US. He also appears not to have earned the trust of President Peter Mutharika in the DPP because he is the only regional Vice President who is not a Cabinet Minister.
Tembenu on the other hand appears to be the darling of some groups within the ruling camp and the poster child of internal power politics. He is largely loyal to President Mutharika and appears to have his ear too, probably as a fellow lawyer. However, despite having an upper hand over Uladi Mussa on internal power politics in DPP, Tembenu is largely only just a brilliant lawyer and is yet to graduate into a real ground politician with a visible power base. Mutharika should choose someone with a political power base to bring value to his candidature in order to win these elections. Tembenu is also considered not to be a people’s person and has his dark spots too.
Bright Msaka from Machinga in the Eastern Region also faces the same accusations (or is it deficiency) just like Tembenu. He is a brilliant lawyer and career diplomat who has been a civil servant for most of his adult life. He is not a politician and is only trying to become an MP for the first time in his life. If Mutharika is to choose someone from that region, he or she must be one with a loyal and visible political power base and with the clout to bring the Yao vote to the table. That person is not Msaka because he still does not and cannot connect with the rank and file of the party and may just end up like Saulos Chilima while he was in DPP, a limping Vice President, without power and respect from the party’s rank and file.
The other choice is the party’s southern region Vice President, Kondwani Nankhumwa. He is a young politician who embodies the party youthful outlook and may be a plus to the party more especially now when the party would like to capture the youth vote. He is also DPP bred with inside knowledge of the party having risen through the ranks to take up leadership position. He is an also ambitious young man who has shown that he is a performer as exemplified by his performance as Leader of Government Business in Parliament.
As Vice President of the southern region, a region considered as the support base of the party, Nankhumwa’s choice could be the right one because the support base would still feel ownership of the party and therefore not disfranchised. He is also articulate and connects better with the people, which are the right traits for someone who should be able to articulate the vision of the ruling party.
Kondwani Nankhumwa has demonstrated that he can command a large following as demonstrated by the recent public rallies that drew massive crowds in the southern region. On top of this, Nankhumwa has displayed loyalty to President Mutharika and the vision of the party, which is one of the most important attributes for one to be running-mate.
However, most critics of Nankhumwa’s choice point to the fact that he is from Mulanje and therefore a ‘wrong choice’ for running-mate as Mutharika cannot have a running-mate who also comes from the Lhomwe Belt. They also point to the issue of his inexperience; that despite the fact that these elections will be won on the basis of the youth vote, Nankhumwa is young and inexperienced at the apex of the presidency and, therefore, a risk for the DPP if he is appointed running-mate to Mutharika.
Not long ago, the media was awash with allegations that the youthful Minister stole a Standard 8 certificate belonging to his dead relative, which necessitated his change of name from George Malemia to Kondwani Nankhumwa. He has comprehensively denied these allegations and he has challenged anyone with any evidence to bring it forward. No-one has and other quarters have counter-argued that these allegations are petty and dead silly. They say the whole nation cannot waste time or be bogged down over unsubstantiated Standard 8 allegations against someone who went on to achieve impeccable academic accolades in his secondary and tertiary education.
The stability of Nankhumwa as potential running-mate to Mutharika means that the party will be in stable hands of a bona-fide member equipped with detailed institutional memory even beyond Mutharika. This advantage far outweighs the regional disadvantages that have been furthered by his critics.
- Chris Chagwamnjira is a Blantyre-based political analyst. View contained in this article are his and not necessarily those of Nyasa Times