There are 824 days to Tuesday, May 21 2019 when Malawians will go to the polls again to elect a president, Member of Parliament and councillor of their choice. These 824 days might sound aeons away, but if the under-currents of uncertainty simmering in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are anything to go by, this coming Tuesday might as well be election-day.
As the days leading to the polls become fewer by the day, it is only fair for Malawians to start asking questions of the political party whose presidential candidate Peter Mutharika obtained a popular vote of 1 904 399, some might say riding on the back of the exciting popularity of his charismatic running mate, now Vice-President Saulos Chilima.
But if the events of the past week are anything to go by, the DPP, and by extension the President of this country does not want Chilima anywhere near the seat of power. Speculations are rife on the cause of this so-called rift but it is high time the DPP made a hard decision about the Vice-President.
In his capacity as minister responsible for disaster management appointed by Mutharika himself, Chilima responded to the floods that wreaked havoc in Lilongwe since Friday last week rendering moral support to the people and making a symbolic distribution of relief items. The previous week, he carried out a similar activity in Salima where hundreds of households have been displaced due to flooding.
It was, therefore, surprising to see the President and an entourage of DPP executive members retrace the steps Chilima made in what Malawians must have thought was the official government’s response to the disaster.
As if that is not enough, there is an unofficial blackout of coverage of Chilima’s events on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), that statutory entity that runs on tax money from already overburdened taxpayers.
The MBC crew successfully edited out Chilima’s visit to Mtandire and Mtsiliza in Lilongwe as if he was not the first official to respond to the disaster, a similar report of the Salima visit removed the Vice-President from the picture.
The treatment of Chilima as a non-entity in the party and government in general culminated in Salima when he was disregarded as Minister for Disaster Management for that unnecessary protocol of asking the president to address the gathering in favour of the DPP Secretary General.
Those watching the drama play out could only arrive at one wild conclusion: Chilima did such a bad job of responding to the disaster as minister that the president had to clean up his mess.
Just recently, the DPP announced changes to the national executive committee, bringing in political dinosaurs like Hetherwick Ntaba and Francis Mphepo whose contributions to the party will be really questionable.
My history of Malawi politics might be rusty, but there has not been a time when the Vice-President of a country held no position in the political party which sponsored him or her to the lofty position.
I will say it again that being Vice-President of Malawi is really a thankless job and the timing of the removal of the Public Service Reforms Secretariat responsibility from the Office of the Veep to the Office of the President and Cabinet has not helped matters.
If the strategy is to blackout Chilima into resignation as Vice-President then the DPP is doing a bad job of it. The more the DPP pummels Chilima to the ground, the more popularity he gains, possibly even with the party itself.
Chilima is a smart man who cannot surely be banking on the man being earmarked to take over from Mutharika to continue the downward descent to the doldrums or God forbid a repeat of April 6 2012.
The Vice-President should not be forced into the position that Joyce Banda (then as Veep) found herself in not long ago: plan an exit strategy so elaborate, take as many people from the party and destabilise it with very little room for recovery.
So the hard questions to the DPP are as follows: are they intending to fire Chilima? If yes, will that happen before or at the convention? Are they buying time to hit him with a case—perceived or real (Cassim Chilumpha comes to mind)—or do they want him to voluntarily resign?
In other words, DPP, is Chilima in or out?