Faced with criticism over his alleged failure to demonstrate leadership by uniting the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), former president Peter Mutharika moved to seal cracks by bringing together the party’s six presidential hopefuls.
The move has earned Mutharika credit from political analysts and players, including former president Bakili Muluzi and former minister of Justice Samuel Tembenu who have been asking him to bring sanity in DPP.
The six hopefuls to succeed Mutharika and lead DPP in the next general election are former Reserve Bank of Malawi governor Dalitso Kabambe, Living Word Evangelical Church overseer Prophet David Mbewe, Machinga Likwenu member of Parliament (MP) and DPP vice-president for the Eastern Region Bright Msaka, Chiradzulu Central MP and former minister of Finance Joseph Mwanamvekha, Mulanje Central MP and Leader of Opposition in Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa as well as economist and businessperson Paul Gadama, who is son of former politician the late Aaron Gadama.
Mutharika hosted the six at his house in Nyambadwe, Blantyre and DPP spokesperson Shadric Namalonba said in an interview yesterday that all the aspirants pledged to serve and recognise Mutharika’s authority and leadership.
He said: “The aspirants have further agreed to shelve their presidential ambitions and to stop any campaign until the time when the convention will be announced.
“The meeting resolved that from now onwards, all business in Parliament shall be guided by the party president through the Leader of Opposition in Parliament.
“On his part, [one of the aspirants] honourable Kondwani Nankhumwa has also agreed to withdraw all court cases that his camp commenced against the party and other senior party officials.”
Namalomba said Mutharika will hold a rally alongside the six at a venue to be announced where they will speak on the economic hardships Malawians are facing under the Tonse Alliance administration and propose solutions.
In an interview yesterday, University of Malawi (Unima) political analyst Professor Blessings Chinsinga said Mutharika’s decision was commendable, saying the loss of power in the court-sanctioned Fresh Presidential Election on June 23 2020 weakened the party and many people have been stepping up to try and offer alternative choices to the DPP.
But he cast doubt on whether the candidates will stick to the rules, indicating that in politics people do not normally use conventional means to take over leadership.
Chinsinga said: “The institutional frameworks of the party were not being followed. There are clear procedures that are laid out on succession, but the moment the DPP lost power, everyone with leadership ambitions started emerging to offer alternative leadership because Mutharika kind of withdrew and that contributed to the chaos.
“What is needed is ensuring that what has been agreed is pursued to the logical conclusion. That means Mutharika working day and night ensuring that what has been agreed upon is adhered to, but I have my doubts because as a country we are good at coming up with plans, but do not pursue them.”
In a separate interview, political scientist Associate Professor Mustafa Hussein, who teaches in the Political and Administrative Studies Department at Unima, said Mutharika has now realised that DPP can work effectively if there is unity. He said the gesture could also be attributed to pressure from stakeholders.
He said: “DPP has all along been characterised by conflicts or misunderstanding, but this is a step towards unifying and bringing sanity in the party. Should that continue, it can be a very good step toward unifying the party.
“We are now expecting a free and fair election where delegates will have a say on who should lead them. DPP has to play its role and in the context of problems that Malawians are facing.”
Muluzi, who urged Mutharika to address the situation in DPP during the Mulhako wa Alhomwe cultural celebration in October, said his fellow former president has made a smart move.
He said: “That’s what should happen. Unity is very important in any situation and I think that former president Mutharika has taken the right direction to bring unity in the party.
“That’s the direction everyone was expecting. I made it clear that I am not DPP, but I was looking at the democracy in the country. So, it is a commendable step.
“What is important in any situation whether you are in a religious or political grouping is commitment. What has happened in DPP is a good thing for democracy in the country but also unity.”
On his part, Tembenu, who served in Mutharika’s Cabinet and recently criticised the party leadership for showing no interest to resolve differences, said the move was ideal and is what he has been asking for.
He said: “This shows that the party is capable of resolving its internal problems. This is a step in the right direction. It shows that the party can resolve internal problems and it also shows that dialogue is the best approach in resolving problems.
“This is what I was advocating for. Now that they have sat down, I can only commend all the leaders who put aside all the differences, if they were any and sat down to discuss. We need to be a united party.”
Meanwhile, Nankhumwa, who was last year expelled from the party alongside three others, including secretary general Grezelder Jeffrey, has said in a statement that the meeting was conducted in a cordial environment. He said he was hopeful it will help to rebuild the party in readiness for the 2025 Tripartite Elections.
Reads the statement: “The meeting agreed that the status quo of all other cases that are before the courts involving myself and three other party officials, namely honourable Jeffrey, honourable Jappie Mhango, honourable Yusuf Nthenda (MP) and the party remain unchanged until the party president agrees to hold a closed-door meeting with all of us to discuss matters relating to the cases.”
Cracks in the former governing DPP came to light after Jeffrey in August last year told The Nation that Mutharika, who lost the June 23 2020 presidential election to President Lazarus Chakwera, had done his part and that the party needed a new person to lead it into the future, calling for an early convention.
Later, the party fired Nankhumwa, Jeffrey, Mhango and Mulanje West legislator Nthenda for allegedly influencing the rejection of Mutharika’s appointee, Francis Kasaila, as Leader of Opposition in Parliament. The matter is now going for full trial in court.
Peter Mutharika took over the leadership of DPP after the death of his brother, Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2012, propelling the party to victory in the 2014 Tripartite Elections.