On August 12 2013, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) elected Lazarus Chakwera as its new party leader and presidential candidate in the 2014 election. No one would have imagined the force he would be as the party leader today.
To fully understand the impact he has had on MCP, you have to look at the run-up to MCP’s party convention, held on August 9th‑11th, which was dominated by speculations about the future of the party’s erstwhile leader, John Zenus Ungapake Tembo, a key political figure in Malawi since the country’s independence in 1964.
Tembo or JZU as he is fondly called, almost killed the party having expressed his willingness to represent it again in the 2014 polls despite party statutes officially preventing him from standing for a third term. The issue was not settled until party members, during the convention, voted against allowing JZU to stand again.
The blocking of JZU allowed for the rise Reverend Chakwera of the Assemblies of God Church, who has spent most of his career as a church leader.
At the convention he won 287 out of 685 votes but it was enough to secure the win ahead of nine other contenders.
Chakwera knows that MCP has to do things differently this time around having been consistently coming in second at the polls. Under JZU, the party lost three presidential bids; in 1999 to Bakili Muluzi, in 2004 and 2009 to Bingu wa Mutharika.
For Chakwera this will be his second election, both as MP and presidential contestant. He was second best to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Peter Mutharika in the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections.
His leadership so far shows that he learnt a lot from MCP’s past defeats. While I agree with Chancellor College (Chanco) based political analyst Ernest Thindwa who says experience, much as it may be necessary, is not a prerequisite to succeed in a given political office, the little experience the Reverend has gained is beginning to show.
He must have known how steep the slope was going to be at Chichiri International Conference Centre when presidential aspirants present their nomination papers and unveil their running mates. The pressure becomes too much to bear if one does not play the cards right.
By picking Mia as running mate three months to the nomination exercise Chakwera scored a point. He must have been laughing his lungs out when some parties came out of the Comesa Hall half broken with questionable characters as running mates.
For the past five years, Chakwera has shown that it is not in his blood to do things at the last minute and it seems he is getting it right.
When he was elected at the convention, he acted swiftly; to build his party in setting the tone on the political scene in the country and going on to win big in landmark By-Elections in October 2017.
He has dealt with divisions within the party with swag and led MCP to be the first to hold a convention and the first to hold primaries ahead of May 21 elections. In a recent tweet, Chakwera hinted that the party’s manifesto is ready and he will probably be the first to unveil it.
Some say the early bird catches the worm. Will Chakwera’s daring moves so far earn him the presidency? Only time will tell. n