Deep in the heart of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidacy debacle rests an issue that, in the excitement of the prospect of president Arthur Peter Mutharika relinquishing the leadership baton to vice president Saulos Chilima, everyone is overlooking.
As tempers flare on both sides of the DPP political divide, and press conferences are being addressed at a frantic rate, the focus is on whether or not former First Lady Callista Mutharika’s comments that Mutharika is old and must retire to allow his younger vice to take over have any merit.
Yes- say Bon Kalindo and Louis Ngalande, two outspoken DPP members. Yes- says many other stakeholder voices on social media and in pubs and drinking joints.
No, say the DPP women’s league and a certain “midday seven” assortment of DPP cabinet ministers and strongmen frenetically assembling themselves and determined to demonstrate that their loyalty is to the President and not to his vice.
Of course this latter group, the naysayers, seems to completely miss the fact that in addressing a press conference aimed at demonstrating solidarity to the president, they also demonstrate that they do not care much about the DPP as a party. If you are lost here, let me explain. Those that have suggested that Peter Mutharika should not run for the presidency again do not exactly have anything personal against the president. On the contrary, they have made their comments, as I understand them, with full respect. What they do have is a greater concern for the future of the DPP.
Their concern is that if Peter Mutharika is encouraged to run again, the DPP as a party will suffer, and even more so Malawi as a country.
The two logical reasons given have not been convincingly refuted. For all the arguments that Callista Mutharika may have a personal agenda or her own personal baggage, and that her comments may have been inspired by family issues, nothing can dilute the truth of her two main points. The first is that Peter Mutharika is too old to be running for president again. The second is that Peter Mutharika has been surrounded by thieves and vultures that have severely compromised his leadership and caused his governing of the country to fall victim to corruption and bad governance.
The call from those suggesting that Mutharika must go is a call for the cleansing of the DPP image. To rid it of its geriatric and corrupt leadership as 2019 elections beckon. It is a call that should be made by anyone who truly loves the DPP. That somehow some Mutharika cronies are seeing these calls as misguided should raise questions even in the President’s mind about whether or not these cronies really care about the President’s legacy, the DPP, and especially the country.
As a matter of fact, all those that love the DPP should be looking at the issue soberly and recognising a real opportunity to transform the party. One thing that should be obvious and yet is being missed is that these calls mean that a good cross section of people still want the DPP to win in the 2019 elections, but they just want it to reform its leadership.
It is this point that brings me to the observation I made at the beginning. In my uncommon sense, I do not think that that the cleansing of the DPP image simply begins and ends with the change of leadership at the helm of the party from Peter Mutharika to the younger and more promising Saulos Chilima. The cleansing of the DPP image needs more than that. It requires first an analysis of what caused Malawians to be disillusioned with the party in the first place.
If I recall, one of the main problems with Mutharika’s administration initially was the fact that he somehow allowed those immediately around him, especially people like his then assistant Ben Phiri to build such powerful political and administrative bases that people had to go through them to reach the president. There were allegations, for instance, of Phiri appointing people to government positions on behalf of the president, which the president was never aware of, and of Phiri charging thousand of dollars in order to give people an opportunity to meet the president.
The allegations were never really proven of course, but the fact that Mutharika eventually fired Phiri from being his assistant and sent him packing from the State House into some political wilderness where he has languished for the past two years says a lot about the fact that there was some consternation regarding his position in the party and even in government.
It surprises me then, than in the conversations on how the DPP needs a new image represented by a change of leadership, the need for preventing the involvement of disturbing and disruptive elements such as Ben Phiri’s and others of his ilk is not being addressed. In my opinion, it was the actions of not just president Mutharika himself but especially the selfish and greedy around him that destroyed the DPP image and that needs to be addressed.
In this regard, a press conference addressed by Ben Phiri declaring himself to be back in the mainstream of DPP political operations needs to be met with as much condemnation as the idea of Peter Mutharika considering to represent the party in 2019. Both these elements are equally potent in ensuring a DPP defeat and those that love the DPP needs to address them both. To address simply the candidacy issue is to simple deal with one part of the problem. It is to deal with only a symptom while ignoring the cause. It is to ensure that the same problems will threaten to return even with Saulosi Chilima as President.
In conclusion then, if the general public response in the country to calls for President Peter Mutharika to relinquish leadership is anything to go by, then general consensus would be that the DPP would have a lot of sympathy and support if the younger Saulos Chilima was at the helm. Malawians are keen to see such a change in the DPP.
I dare caution us, though, that we need to be even more demanding about what we need to see in the DPP if we are to vote for it in the coming elections. This should not be simply a matter of changing the presidential candidate. What it needs to be is a true change of character, which can only happen when those individuals that have tainted and corrupted its image in the past four to five years are shown the door to pave way for new, honest faces that represent reform, regeneration and renewal.
To dry-clean the DPP and reboot it into a party that’s truly ready to face the challenges of developing Malawi from 2019 onwards, Malawians need to demand more than just a Saulos Klaus Chilima, although that in itself is a step in the right direction.
- The views expressed in this column are not those of the Nyasa Times – Editor