President Peter Mutharika has once again heavily rewarded the South—which largely contributed to the 38.5 percent of the votes he got in the May 21 Tripartite Elections. He has given the region 16 portfolios out of his bloated Cabinet of 24 members. This is a 33.3 percent jump from the previous Cabinet which had 12 Cabinet members from the South and eight from the other two regions.
Mutharika, whose election as president is being disputed by his two closest contestants in the elections—MCP’s Lazarus Chakwera and UTM’s Saulos Klaus Chilima—has maintained the numbers for his previous Cabinet in the Centre and North. He has allocated only four to each for their dismal support to him and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Like in the Parable of the Bags of Gold (Mathew 25:14—30), Mutharika’s strong message in the composition of this Cabinet is simple. To the South which is his support base, he is giving them a pat on the back: “Well done, good and faithful servant! … You have been faithful [to me] … I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
On the other hand, to the Centre and North, Mutharika is scorning them for not supporting him: “You wicked, lazy servant! ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has 10 bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have in abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Mutharika, who has been preaching unity in his post-election messages to the country, has not used the Cabinet to show that he is accommodative of the other regions despite not voting for him. Neither will he make any attempt to entice them so that they can do better next time. For this, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in those regions. And just as was the case in all his appointments since 2014, Malawians should expect more cronyism and nepotism this time round aimed at rewarding voters from his support base.
It is the reason the greatest support for the nationwide demonstrations to force MEC chairperson Jane Ansah to resign is coming from the Centre and North. Ansah is accused of fraudulently gifting Mutharika with victory before fully resolving myriad electoral disputes from contestants.
People will thus criticise Mutharika for once again filling up the Cabinet with his cronies. He will also come under heavy criticism that the country is experiencing the worst form of nepotism in Malawi’s history. But for Mutharika what is important to him is to know who has kept faith with him and who will stand by his side in the thick of things. Mutharika’s statement to Malawians is that he will keep the ungrateful Centre and North—who rejected him in the elections—as lean as possible in his Cabinet.
The short of this is that Mutharika has no agenda to unite the politically polarized country. That is why one minute he is inviting the opposition to unite with him and work together to develop the country. And then in the next minute, he is telling his political opponents—Chakwera and Chilima—that people “rejected you” in the votes. But we all know that this is contrary to the truth.
Instead it is him and his DPP that are being rejected. DPP has 62 MPs in the 193-seat National Assembly. Ahead of the election of the Speaker, the party claimed to have wooed 30 independent MPs to its fold giving it 92 MPs. One would also have expected the United Democratic Front (UDF) with which the DPP-led government was in a coalition between 2014 and 2019, to align with DPP in the elections for the Speaker.
But the rejection of all DPP candidates for Speakership can only mean one thing—the 62 percent of the voters who rejected Mutharika on the ballot are now rejecting him through their parliamentary representatives. It also means that either all or a majority of the UDF MPs voted against the DPP’s candidates or some independent MPs who had originally indicated they would support DPP in the House reneged on their promise. What is good though about DPP’s failure to push in their choice for Speakership is that democracy has gained.