Although the next presidential and parliamentary elections are two years away, political parties have started rebuilding to increase their chances of winning the 2019 polls.
In MCP, the party president Lazarus Chakwera has made several changes in the party’s policy making body—the national executive committee (NEC)—which has brought discontent within the party’s rank and file. On its part, Alliance for Democracy (Aford) has announced a project called ‘Revamp Aford’.
In the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), sources say the party is considering former speaker Henry Chimunthu Banda to be President Peter Mutharika’s running-mate, in favour of the allegedly out-of-favour Saulos Chilima.
These rebuilding efforts come hot on the heels of an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) of The Economist magazine report, which says Mutharika may have an edge over the opposition in the 2019 elections, but could slip if the economy worsens.
EIU, an internationally acclaimed risk and forecast think-tank, released the findings in March at a time major parties have been embroiled in internal wrangles, some of which have ended in courts, which the report says weaken them further.
Chimunthu Banda’s name is being mentioned because most recently he has been seen sitting close to Mutharika during his rallies. But Chimunthu says he is surprised with the theories earmarking him for the running-mate position in DPP.
“I have been attending these functions since 2012 whenever I have had time, I am surprised that today this has been an issue and I am being interrogated by various media outlets,” Chimunthu Banda told Weekend Nation last Tuesday.
However, he remained mum when asked if he would accept or reject the running-mate offer.
Of late, cracks have emerged in the relationship between Mutharika and his deputy. On a number of occasions, during State functions and events, Mutharika totally ignores Chilima in his salutations; a development that some political commentators say is a sign of a fall-out between the two.
For instance, when Mutharika held a rally at Masintha ground in Lilongwe last November, he summoned several Cabinet ministers to the podium to talk about the public service reforms, but ignored Chilima who was in charge of the Public Service Reforms Programme for the past two years.
From meeting thrice a month in the first 12 months, to meeting only once in every three months and in recent times, the duo go six months without having a one-on-one meeting, aides recently told Weekend Nation.
Then in February this year, Mutharika took away the reforms task from the Vice-President’s office and put it under the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC).
While State House has repeatedly played down reports of a fall-out, saying the President and his deputy are working together, State-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) continues to give Chilima a coverage black-out.
Chilima has also drawn criticism from DPP die-hards for his public outbursts. At a development rally in Ndirande-Malabada Constituency in Blantyre last year, Chilima warned the President and the DPP to be careful with some of its members and political allies who he said were bringing confusion in the party.
The VP said “njoka saweta. Ena amayesa kuweta nsato koma mapeto ake imawadya—translated to a warning that a tamed snake can end up killing you.
Then recently, Chilima urged Malawians not to praise mediocre leadership, but resolve to seriously hold leaders accountable for service delivery in transformative development.
The statements, according to party source, have left the President wondering whether the Vice-President is pursuing a personal agenda or the administration’s agenda.
But DPP spokesperson Francis Kasaila said it is too early for the party to start discussing who is going to be a running-mate in 2019.
MCP wrangles, running-mate hunt
In MCP, reports indicate that the party is also intensely courting former Cabinet minister and business mogul Muhammed Sidik Mia to be Chakwera’s running-mate, in the hope of capturing votes in the Shire Valley, where Mia is considered a political giant.
MCP deputy secretary-general, Eisenhower Mkaka while confirming that Mia recently expressed interest to join the party, played down suggestions that the Shire Valley political heavyweight will be Chakwera’s running-mate in 2019.
“I am aware that Sidik Mia has expressed interest to join our party. We have no problem with that, the door is open for more people to join. However, as a party we have no specific arrangement with Mr. Mia,” said Mkaka.
He said as regards the position of running-mate, the MCP constitution is clear that the president has a prerogative to choose who should be his running-mate.
In an interview with Weekend Nation last Wednesday, Mia dismissed Mkaka’s remarks that he showed interest in MCP.
“I am looking after my businesses and I have no interest
to go back into politics any time soon,” said Mia.
According to the EIU, it is regional politics, the power of incumbency and a disorganised opposition that will make Mutharika the favourite.
“We expect Mr. Mutharika to stand for re-election and, since regional affiliations ultimately determine the outcome of Malawian polls, the incumbent’s continuing popularity in the most populous Southern Region will give him an edge. The MCP and its leader, Lazarus Chakwera, will campaign on a message of anti-corruption, but it will struggle to offer any viable policy alternatives.
“Nevertheless, should an economic recovery fail to take hold prior to the polls, the MCP and Mr. Chakwera stand to gain. The popularity of the previous president, Joyce Banda, will remain weak, following revelations of widespread misappropriation of public funds during her tenure,” explains the report.
Which is why it is not surprising that Aford, previously a dominant force in the Northern Region is waking up from slumber to retake the region in 2019. Aford announced at a media briefing in Lilongwe on Sunday a major project called ‘Revamp Aford’ to rebuild itself. At the briefing, a political heavyweight and former PP parliamentarian Frank Mwenefumbo announced that he has rejoined the party.
Chancellor College-based political analyst Henry Chingaipe says the Aford regrouping to recapture the vote of the Northern Region, which has been its stronghold since 1990s when the late Chakufwa Chihana founded the party, would be a game-changer.
“Successful regrouping of Aford—especially if it were to succeed in capturing all the votes of the Northern Region as it used to in its heydays—could be a game-changer since no political party could govern successfully without Aford’s support,” said Chingaipe. n