When President Peter Mutharika formally presents presidential nomination papers to Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) this afternoon for his re-election bid, he will be the third member of his Cabinet to vie for the highest political office.
The other Cabinet members aspiring for the office of President are Mutharika’s estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima, who is standing on the ticket of newly formed UTM Party and Minister of Health Atupele Muluzi as United Democratic Front (UDF) torchbearer.
Chilima presented his nomination papers to MEC on Wednesday. He named popular actor and activist Michael Usi as his running mate. Muluzi, on the other hand, submitted his papers on Thursday with legislator Frank Mwenifumbo of Alliance for Democracy (Aford) as his running mate.
Whereas Mutharika left out Chilima from the official Cabinet list, technically and legally, the estranged Vice-President—a former corporate executive who rose to the post of Airtel Malawi managing director before Mutharika roped him into active politics in February 2014 to be his running mate—remains a member of the Cabinet based on Section 92(1) of the Constitution.
Reads the section in part: “There shall be a Cabinet consisting of the President, the First Vice-President, the Second Vice-President and such ministers and deputy ministers as may, from time to time, be appointed by the President.”
Reacting to the situation, two political analysts The Nation interrogated yesterday on their impressions said it was a reflection of divisions in Cabinet as well as a sign of selfishness among politicians.
Blantyre-based political commentator and strategist Humphreys Mvula said having three Cabinet members competing in one race demonstrates revolt.
He said: “Unless there are some underlying agreements between the United Democratic Front and Democratic Progressive Party, obviously the relationship between Atupele Muluzi and President Peter Mutharika would sour up as they are no longer together… Each one of them is pursuing a different agenda.”
Mvula said Muluzi would do better to resign as a Cabinet minister or risk being fired. He said Muluzi’s situation was different from Chilima’s who is protected by the Constitution as Vice-President as he was voted into office by Malawians alongside the President.
On his part, Ernest Thindwa of the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, said the situation has exposed weaknesses in political parties.
“You would want to question them on what motivates people to join politics and to join a particular political party. What this reveals is that it is much more about advancing personal interest than national service,” he said.
Thindwa suggested that UDF would have done itself justice by fielding a different presidential candidate other than Muluzi who is part of the current administration and has no issue to campaign for.
On Muluzi’s choice of Frank Mwenifumbo of Aford as his running mate, Thindwa said even though democracy provides for political freedom, to have two warring Aford leaders—Mwenifumbo and party president Enock Chihana—working with different political parties was a joke. Chihana has aligned his Aford faction with Chilima while Mwenifumbo has partnered Muluzi.
In his address after presenting nomination papers, Muluzi justified his working with DPP as promoting national good regardless of political, religious or tribal differences.
He said: “Working inside the incumbent government has equipped me with the capacity to observe and handle critical issues affecting us. Hence, the UDF is geared towards providing tangible and fruitful panacea to critical shortcomings.”
But Mvula said Muluzi should not disguise his inclusion in Cabinet or partnership with the Mwenifumbo faction of Aford as promoting national unity.
He said: “It is a matter of wanting to be seen to be relevant.”
In the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections, Muluzi finished fourth with 717 224 votes. Peter Mutharika, who paired with Chilima as his running mate, triumphed with 1 904 399 votes while second-placed Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party had 1 455 880. Then incumbent president Joyce Banda of People’s Party, who had ascended to the presidency in line with constitutional order after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika in 2012, finished third with 1 056 236 votes.
Besides Muluzi, yesterday saw former vice-president Cassim Chilumpha presenting nomination papers as presidential candidate of Tikonze People’s Movement with Zione Matumba as running mate.
Commenting on the abortive alliance with UTM Party, Chilumpha said he opted out because there was a lot of secrecy on the part of UTM and unfair distribution of positions.
Meanwhile, presentation of nomination papers for the presidential, parliamentary and local government elections ends today. MEC chairperson Jane Ansah said any candidate who shows up after 4pm will not be entertained. n