The past 10 days have seen several senior Malawi Congress Party officials drumming up support for President Lazarus Chakwera’s candidature in 2025 general elections. The first senior MCP official to openly declare his support for Chakwera was the party’s vice president Harry Mkandawire in February 2022. Last week Lilongwe legislator Binton Kutsaira and the party’s deputy secretary general Catherine Gotani Hara added their weight to the sentiments.
On the surface, such statements would seem to create tension among the nine-member Tonse Alliance partners in government especially between the two people at the top—Chakwera and Vice President Saulosi Chilima . But there is nothing wrong with the statements because as MCP publicity secretary Reverend Maurice Munthali rightly put it, “people are free to open up and propose what they individually feel could be good for the party. Members are free to express their views, opinions and tastes as provided for in the country’s Constitution.”
Adding their voices, some have further argued that we are in an open and democratic society where citizens have the right to express their preferences in terms of candidates. That the present “political dispensation theoretically provides no room for the culture of fear and secrecy. Hence, people should be allowed to express their preferences without unnecessary constraints” (Gift Sambo, Nation Online, May 10, 2022).
My take is that, more importantly, people are free to say who they want to lead them beyond 2025 because Chakwera and Chilima, the leaders of the biggest parties in the nine-member Tonse Alliance administration, have not made public the contents of their agreement as alliance partners to suggest otherwise. Unless people know the contents of their secret memorandum of understanding (MOU) as alliance partners in government, it’s all just speculation and the game is wide open for anybody’s taking. Who knows, it could be that the secret agreement does not even touch the issue of rotating the State presidency in 2025. So, unless the two people come in the open and tell the nation what they agreed, statements that endorsing Chakwera now are premature and have the potential of creating unnecessary tension (Martin Chiphwanya, Nation Online, May 10, 2022) hold no water.
In an environment where people are at liberty to support any candidate of their choice within the party, Chakwera is also at liberty to use his incumbency advantage over other hopefuls for the top party position. The argument that the endorsements which are coming from senior leaders can prevent others from competing is normal. In the same vein, the argument that the early endorsements do not level the playing field for other hopefuls is neither here nor there. Politics is never without competition and elimination. Making maximum use of the incumbency advantage is legit for any leader seeking to be retained in a political office.
Additionally, just as Mkandawire, Kutsaira and Gotani Hara have endorsed Chakwera, other party members are also free to nominate their favourites for the top party position. That is why several people have already offered their candidature for the leadership of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) where some party members are also offering the incumbent Peter Mutharika for 2025. This is normal in a democracy. There is no timeframe for campaign. Other political parties such as UTM, UDF, PP, Aford, PPM, Petra, etc can also follow suit if they so wish.
But when all is said and done, there is one crucial question that the posturing for positions in MCP is begging. This goes back to the secret agreement between Chakwera and Chilima. If the developments in MCP—open declarations of Chakwera’s candidature in 2025—abrogate elements of this secret agreement, why is Chilima not crying foul? Why does this not ruffle feathers in his camp? Should we assume he is strategising and waiting for an opportune time to act or react? He could just be wasting time as Chakwera is now consolidating his support base.