It was always fodder for incessant public speculation, but when the formal announcement from Speaker of the National Assembly Henry Chimunthu Banda came out, it was still sensational. The former DPP secretary general has thrown the gauntlet at interim president Peter Mutharika for whom victory at the party convention next month seemed a fait accompli. The signs are already there that this will be some fascinating tussle.
For me, Chimunthu Banda’s announcement has sent me thinking again. Until that announcement I had made up my mind that, for the first time since I became old enough to vote, I would pass the opportunity in 2014 because there was no one that could entice me to exercise this right. All the contenders that had hitherto thrown their names into hat had not yet appealed to me and I was not going to do a Gwanda again.
You see in 2004, there was a similar situation for me when I had no favourite candidate. I was sure I was not going to vote for the UDF candidate because of how he was imposed on us but I could not vote for the next biggest contender either, Baba JZU. Out of desperation I ended up voting for Gwanda Chakuamba, not because I found him appropriate but because I did not want someone else.
The Speaker, however, offers something different and I am willing to listen and consider my position again. The problem I have, though, is that I am failing to place Chimunthu Banda within the DPP fabric. From what I know so far, the legislator from Nkhotakota North represents everything the DPP is not. His leadership means a total reorientation and rebranding of the party.
My image of the DPP is that of a party full of arrogance, impudence, nepotism, defiance, intimidation and lawlessness. After the 2009 elections that saw the party breaking the existing regional and tribal boundaries we saw the birth of political hegemony and “thuggery” never seen before in multiparty Malawi. It was like you were a first-class citizen if you belonged to the party and everyone else’s interests did not matter.
What we then saw was a reign of terror that the party unleashed on everyone with a dissenting voice. People were dismissed from the party and others from public sector jobs simply for holding a view that was different from the official, read leadership’s, line. Those who opposed the raging tyranny and dictatorship lived in perpetual fear and I have personal tales to tell in that regard.
And then the unexpected happened when the party lost its leader in tragic circumstances and, in the process, the right to govern. You would expect that sudden turn events to make the party sober up but what has happened since is a hardening of the heart. We all heard the defiant songs that the party’s members sang throughout the funeral and what was meant to be a eulogy by their leader.
There has never been a genuine owning up to the economic and political problems that the party imposed on Malawians. Yes, there was an attempt at apologising to Malawians but you know that was not sincere because when Wakuda Kamanga tried to do the same at the funeral, he was booed by the party fundamentalists and the party’s actions since have not shown any regret at all.
We have all seen how the party’s supporters have behaved once one of their own has been arrested. There is a clear difference between solidarity and defiance and what we have seen from DPP leaders and followers is the latter. They have gone as far as demanding, sometimes with brutal force, the very rights they denied others not so long ago and then have the effrontery to declare that they never infringed on people’s rights in their time.
My image of a DPP follower, therefore, is that of a political thug. You see them at it on the streets, at police stations, within the precincts of the courts and even on social networks. You dare write anything that is not complimentary to the party or its leadership, an avalanche of personal attacks will come your way. It is like the party and its leadership are beyond reproach. Freedom is their exclusive right.
How does Chimunthu Banda’s calm and sober disposition fit in that set-up? You cannot lead the DPP as it exists today if you do not call the President and her government names because being DPP means being openly anti-PP. That is the impression one gets from reading the comments that DPP zealots are writing on social networks, making all sorts of allegations against him to discredit his candidature. He is not militant enough to be DPP.
One criticism of the Speaker is that he stayed away from the party when it needed him most following its departure from government. This criticism is similar to those that have been levelled at previous speakers of the National Assembly. One has to remember how Aford ostracised the late Rodwell Munyenyembe and MCP treated Louis Chimango because they decided to be neutral in respect to their office.
But anyone who remembers how Chimunthu Banda held his own against a vicious opposition as Leader of House in the DPP’s first term of office knows that the man has the character to win over those like me who get put off by the party’s growing image of arrogance. Whether the DPP can accept that change of direction is something we are going to discover when the results of the party’s presidential election are out.
What must also be mentioned, however, is that if not well handled, the convention might spell the beginning of open divisions within the party along regional lines given the vibes that are coming from some quarters within the party. It is ironic how, after uniting the country in the build-up to the 2009 elections, DPP ended up polarising the country soon after and brought back the tribal and regional awareness we were beginning to bid farewell to. If those divisions end up breaking the party up, it would be a sad turn of events.
*Graciun Tukula blogs on http://graciantukula.wordpress.comFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :