Atupele Muluzi faces a backlash from Malawians who wish he stoically accepted defeat and moved on to resuscitate his wilting political party.
The United Democratic Front (UDF) leader, 41, was a running mate of defeated incumbent Peter Mutharika in June 23 fresh presidential election.
He refuses to concede defeat in Africa’s first rerun won by an opposition leader—Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
“This is nothing but a coup. Whoever wins must win fair and square. This is nothing but a farce,” he told his 19 664 followers on Facebook.
The court-ordered retake has been touted as credible, free and fair, with no complaints of brazen irregularities witnessed in the nullified May 2019 poll.
“Generally, the electoral process proceeded without major hiccups or bottlenecks. We commend stakeholders, particularly Malawi Electoral Commission [MEC], given the time and resource constraints in managing this election,” reads a joint report released by National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice), Public Affairs Committee (PAC) and Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP).
The consortium deployed 5002 observers in all polling stations.
However, the son of former president Bakili Muluzi backs Mutharika’s parting shot that it was “the worst-ever election in the history of Malawi”.
Yet that notoriety befits Mutharika’s re-election binned by five judges in the Constitutional Court on February 3. The court found the irregularities “widespread, systematic and grave”, a verdict upheld by seven judges of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal.
As the court dispute panned out, with Chakwera and his UTM Party ally Saulos Chilima taking to the witness box, Atupele flew to China.
While he was on sabbatical, the citizen march on electoral injustice raged on the streets, birthing the most sustained mass protests since the dawn of democracy in 1993.
The anti-regime marchers demanded the resignation of MEC chairperson Jane Ansah, who perceived the uprising as “mob justice”. However, Justice Ansah was forced to step down after the supreme court ruled that her commission had grossly mismanaged the poll.
Atupele, the youngest face on the ballot in the edition to forget, was the first candidate to concede defeat in the botched election.
He expressed no misgiving against the discrepancies, but jetted out having lost both the Machinga North East parliamentary seat he held for 15 years and the lofty perch his famous father occupied for a decade after defeating founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda in 1994.
In 2004, Muluzi senior smoothly ceded power to Bingu wa Mutharika, his chosen heir-turned-foe, who later dumped UDF to form DPP a year later.
Annoyed by Bingu’s acrimonious defection, Muluzi did not just spring back from retirement to unseat him, only to be disqualified by MEC. He also appointed his son to plug the power vacuum in time for the 2014 presidential election.
Atupele’s “agenda for change” flopped to the fourth place as Bingu’s brother, Peter, triumphed over the country’s first female president Joyce Banda.
In 2019, Atupele retained the unenviable fourth spot but lost his legislative seat to Ajilu Kalitendere who spoke of a wasted 15 years.
“I aim to facelift the area. For the past 15 years, our former MP failed to bring tangible development to the area, such as schools, bridges, electricity and potable water,” said his successor in Machinga.
To political commentators, Atupele’s downfall highlighted the slip of UDF, whose numbers in Parliament have dropped from 85 to just 10 since 1994.
At Nyambadwe residence, just 12 hours before the closure of the campaign period for the 2019 Tripartite Election, Atupele hoped to carry the day.
“This is my time and we will perform wonders,” he said during a visit. “The response has been overwhelming. People have been telling us that agenda for change was just about introducing myself to the voters, but now I am mature for the presidency after gaining enough experience.”
The 41-year-old was fresh from Mutharika’s Cabinet and he said the UDF politburo had forced him to accept the ministerial appointment “he only heard on radio”.
“I wasn’t consulted. I just heard my name being announced on radio and the UDF executive held an emergency meeting in Lilongwe where they resolved that it would be seen as unpatriotic to declined the appointment,” explained Atupele.
And his party spokesperson Ken Ndanga nodded in agreement.
“It was a tricky trap. The executive, including those who are against it now, said go and serve the nation,” said the publicist, subtly taking a swipe on Lucius Banda, now UTM campaign director, who denounced the DPP-UDF alliance as a marriage without any certificate.
Interestingly, the youthful candidate promised to be the first to accept the people’s will and congratulate the winner if he lost the poll.
“I’m the youngest candidate on the ballot. If I don’t make it, so I have more time to try again,” he argued.
The UDF leader graciously accepted the crushing loss last year but failed to replicate the gesture after the June 23 defeat.
“If Chakwera had won fair and square, I’d have congratulated him. Unfortunately, that’s not the case,” he stated even though his torchbearer had cited no irregularity or rigging.
Rather, the DPP-UDF “complaint against massive irregularities affecting the integrity and credibility of the presidential election” hinged on alleged attacks on its observers in the Centre and Mzimba.
MEC referred the matter to police for further action, said its chairperson Chifundo Kachale.
Thus, the losers’ lamentations resembled kicks of a dying horse.
Atupele spearheaded the DPP-UDF alliance campaign, with Mutharika staying at home to prevent coronavirus infection.
He was accused of using a Vice-President’s motorcade, but he says he only got a police escort.
His appointment as Mutharika’s potential vice-president was seen as a second vote of no confidence in DPP old-timers. In 2019, the losing president selected lowly ranked Everton Chimulirenji as his running mate.
The convoy has left Atupele under attack as the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) wants him to pay costs for using State resources in an attempt to prolong the Mutharika-Muluzi dynasties.
Chakwera also accused the two families of enriching themselves while Malawians got poorer.
For over a decade, Muluzi has been on trial for allegedly diverting about K1.7 billion during his tenure.
Atupele became his father’s quick fix to the foiled race against Bungu in 2009 after he had exhausted constitutional maximum.
And it was not a first.
His term ended in controversy, following a fierce campaign to amend the Constitution to extend his term beyond two five-year terms. The motion was narrowly defeated in Parliament in 2002, a year before he handpicked Bingu much to the annoyance of UDF executives regional governor Davis Kapito trashed as madeya—rejects.
Atupele rose on the cracked staircases of this system that has constantly held its loyal servants in contempt.
He branded his pairing with Mutharika as a reunion of UDF and its off-shoot, but his resistance to voters’ will portray him as a sore loser if not power-hungry.
His party that has been on the wane since the fall of Kamuzu’s dictatorship 26 years ago.
And Atupele faces integrity questions, despite his claims that he only got a police escort, not a state-owned motorcade.