Mutharika and Chilima: The dream ticket for Malawi beyond 2014?

So, after weeks and weeks of speculation, contemplation and wayward guessing on the part of his supporters and opponents alike, DPP presidential candidate chose suave private sector operator Saulos Chilima to be his running mate for the May 2014 election.

Vice presidential selection is one of the most covered stories of any presidential cycle. It sends the clearest message of a campaign about the presidential candidate as a decision maker. The choice of a running mate for a presidential election may be the most important decision that a presidential candidate makes. It certainly is the most important of their presidency and the one thing that they basically control in full.

The running mate is also a potentially very risky decision because if one makes a mistake, a serious mistake, it is like a bad marriage. Only one cannot get a divorce.

Peter Muthatrika and Saulos Chilima: DPP  presidential ticket
Peter Muthatrika and Saulos Chilima: DPP presidential ticketima

The question then, regarding Mutharika’s choice, Saulos Chilima is whether this is a match made in heaven, or a marriage of convenience.

It is important to bear in mind that conventional wisdom holds that the choice of a running mate in a Malawian context, where tribal issues still have an influence on voters, has an important bearing on the electoral number games. However, this aspect of the running mate’s significance should be a relatively minor one in modern Malawi.

Quite unrecognized and yet psychologically powerful on the mind of voters is the fact that vice presidents do not exactly need to win votes for the ticket directly to matter in elections. The truth of the matter is that voters, aided by the media, assess running mates as reflections of the presidential candidates who choose them. Although voters appear unlikely to determine their presidential votes on whom they would rather see as vice president, vice presidential selection may play a meaningful role in shaping how voters think about the presidential nominees.

Vice presidents matter on their own as well.  In 2012, vice president Joyce Banda succeeded to the presidency. Joyce Banda’s beleaguered presidency after taking over leadership is a warning to all presidential candidates that a running mate must not just be a consideration of votes, but also of the person’s ability to lead the country and perpetuate important policies that their bring economic development and prosperity. Indeed, useful vice presidents who may never become president still matter because they can wield substantial policy and political influence in government.

In Saulos Chilima, Mutharika has chosen a technocrat with solid achievements in the private sector. Chilima is also relatively a young man, and comes from the Central region, as contrasted to Mutharika who comes from the Southern region of Malawi.

The message that Mutharika is giving with this choice is a clear one: He is prepared to bring private sector technocracy and youthful, innovative thinking into his administration. This is an important element in a Malawian political environment teeming with career politicians who have long forgotten the edicts of professionalism and global economic development.

The youthfulness in Mutharika’s running mate also brings a reassuring freshness to the party, and demonstrates forward thinking that is necessary to take the DPP beyond 2014 into the uncharted waters of the great beyond. His hailing from the central region covers the regional issues that some Malawians may still consider important.

The conclusion, then, is that Mutharika’s running mate is certainly professionally qualified, and ticks all the right boxes as a reflection of the decision-making credentials of Peter Mutharika.

I must say, however, that Chilima’s political acumen remains untested, and his political backbone is questionable, given that according to his own testimony, he has in the past been affiliated with AFORD, UDF, and also the Peoples Progressive Movement.  This is an area that Chilima will need to work on, for one of the biggest hopes of Malawian youth, which Chilima now carries on his shoulders, is that the introduction of youth into the political fray will put an end to the era of recycled office-bearers and political prostitution.

My hope and advise to Chilima is that now that he has entered the big league and the political big time, he will realize that true political pedigree is demonstrated through true loyalty to a given political ideal and not through the yo-yo floor-crossing that has been the scourge of Malawian politics.

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