Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) senior officials yesterday addressed President Peter Mutharika’s running mate in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections, Everton Chimulirenji, as the country’s Vice-President, effectively unseating the constitutionally-elected incumbent Saulos Chilima.
In their salutations during Chimulirenji’s first public rally since Mutharika unveiled him as his running mate on February 8, DPP vice-president (Eastern Region) Bright Msaka—a trained lawyer, Southern Region governor Charles Mchacha and secretary general Grezelder Jeffrey publicly addressed the Minister of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development as the country’s Vice-President.
“The only Vice-President of the country we recognise is Right Honourable Chimulirenji,” said Jeffrey during the rally held at the old bus depot at Ntcheu Boma.
Political commentators have since condemned DPP’s conduct as a ploy to unseat the legitimate Vice-President, Chilima, who fell out with Mutharika and is challenging him in the presidential race on UTM Party ticket.
Chimulirenji, who is also Ntcheu North East legislator and like Chilima comes from Ntcheu District, has also had his security beefed up. He travelled from Lilongwe to Ntcheu, a distance of about 150 kilometres, on a convoy of at least four vehicles, including a lead Malawi Police Service vehicle with sirens.
While Cabinet ministers are assigned one Police Mobile Service (PMS) officer each, he now has five armed PMS officers, four more than his entitlement.
Minister of Information and Communication Technology Henry Mussa told journalists after the Ntcheu rally that Chimulirenji’s status had changed; hence, deserving enhanced security.
He said there were precedents before with regard to running mates of sitting Presidents, including legislator Sosten Gwengwe during former president Joyce Banda’s administration in 2014.
Said Mussa: “He is no longer an ordinary Cabinet minister. He is a Vice-President in waiting…”
In a thinly veiled attack on Chilima, Msaka said in Chimulirenji the country would have someone who “when the President is out of the country, will not appoint a new Cabinet”.
But political commentator George Phiri of University of Livingstonia faulted government’s conduct as unconstitutional and AN abuse of public funds.
On addressing Chimulirenji as Vice-President, he said: “We know this is a deliberate move by the DPP to undermine Chilima. They are trying to unseat the Vice-President which is unconstitutional. The mandate of Chilima will expire after the May 21 elections. It is senseless to try to push him out before that time.”
Phiri also asked DPP to hire the additional security for its running mate instead of relying on taxpayers resources.
During yesterday’s rally, Chimulirenji glorified Mutharika as “a visionary leader who had developed the country in the absence of donors”. He dismissed suggestions that his appointment had not pleased some sections of the governing party, especially senior members from the Southern Region.
He said: “I accepted wholeheartedly to be running mate. I have heard some people ridiculing me. Those that are speaking bad things let them speak.”
Chimulirenji also acknowledged the presence of his Cabinet colleagues, notably Msaka, Mussa, Francis Kasaila (Industry, Trade and Tourism), Joseph Mwanamvekha (Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development) and Cecilia Chazama (Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare). He said their presence was an indication that “the Cabinet is pleased with my appointment contrary to rumours that it was divided over my new role”.
He also said he has been in good books with Mutharika for a long time and had been sent on party and government assignments abroad.
Said Chimulirenji: “The President sent me to Cairo on educational visit. I stayed there with my wife for a month and a half. The President has also been assigning me on foreign trips for political missions.”
Mutharika is on record as having said he picked Chilima, who was Airtel Malawi Limited managing director at the time, “from a list of 40 possible names for running mate” because he had a background in business and was decisive. However, the pair, like their predecessors, fell out along the way and they will face off in the presidential race five years down the line. n