Barely days after mending fences with former president Peter Mutharika, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) secretary general Grezelder Jeffrey insists an elective convention will calm the infighting in the former governing party.
In an interview yesterday, she said the convention was the right platform to elect Mutharika’s successor.
Said Jeffrey: “All we want is a convention to elect a new leader and it will happen soon. Mutharika is my father. He has done his part and now let us go to a convention.”
Her sentiments come in the wake of revelations that she was leading a faction opposed to Mutharika who lost the court-ordered Fresh Presidential Election on June 23 to Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera who led the nine-party Tonse Alliance.
DPP’s central committee met on Monday at Mutharika’s beachside residence in Mangochi and resolved to replace Mulanje Central legislator Kondwani Nankhumwa with Nsanje Central member of Parliament (MP) Francis Kasaila as Leader of Opposition in Parliament.
The committee communicated the new arrangement in writing to Parliament, but protests from a section of DPP MPs prompted First Deputy Speaker Madalitso Kazombo to refer the issue back to the party, thereby maintaining Nankhumwa as Leader of Opposition in Parliament.
Ironically, Jeffrey, treasurer general Jappie Mhango (Rumphi North MP) and Nankhumwa were not invited to the Monday meeting.
In an apparent display of her authority as the party’s chief executive officer, Jeffrey has since called for a national governing council (NGC) meeting to be held this Saturday to discuss, among other things, the party’s direction.
She said: “What I know is that Nankhumwa remains the Leader of Opposition because on June 30 Mutharika wrote me a WhatsApp message advising that I write Parliament telling them that Nankhumwa is the leader and I did.
“That there was a meeting on Monday and people decided to change this, as secretary general, I don’t know.”
While acknowledging that the bickering was a reflection that DPP was going through a natural process of change, political analysts have warned that the situation may further weaken the party. They have since advised Mutharika to listen to the voice of reason.
In its bid to rebuild after losing the presidential election, the party appointed a Functional Review Committee chaired by vice-president (Eastern Region) Bright Msaka.
But Jeffrey said the exercise may not change anything as some of the committee’s members were also involved in writing the party’s manifesto; hence, there might be no fresh ideas.
She said: “Let us go to the convention and elect a leader who will guide us and we will be able to advise that person. I talk to Mutharika and advise him, but whether the advice is being used that is up to Mutharika. My advice right now is that we need a convention.
“The NGC has not met since June 23 and the people in the review committee have their own interests… Some want to be president, some Leader of Opposition in Parliament and then you want them to make reforms?”
Nankhumwa, who was recently summoned to the party’s disciplinary hearing over his academic credentials and that he allegedly imposed himself as Leader of Opposition in Parliament, expressed surprise that he was not invited to the Monday meeting.
Mhango also confirmed that he was not invited to the meeting, wondering why they were sidelined when they are a core part of the central committee.
DPP spokesperson Brown Mpinganjira did not answer our calls on several attempts.
Mustafa Hussein, political and administrative studies lecturer at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, said the party was lacking intra-party democracy.
He said “the big man” syndrome was also evidently entrenched where Mutharika thinks he solely owns the party his elder brother Bingu wa Mutharika founded in 2005 after ditching United Democratic Front, a party that sponsored his ticket to State House in 2004.
Said Hussein: “The party is more or less owned by Mutharika and he has this tendency of dictating things while paying little attention to what others may suggest.
“A convention is not being called. Unilateral decisions continue and it is coming out clearly as he is not allowing democratic tendencies. Let him know that it is only through democratising the party that the DPP can be strengthened.”
Political Science Association president Joseph Chunga, who also teaches at Chancellor College, said the party was going through natural changes.
He said: “If they try to control the change where a few people try to maintain their hegemony, am afraid, it is not just going to get weakened, but you may see a splinter party coming out, or indeed mass defections.”
In an earlier interview, Mpinganjira said the Functional Review Committee will present its report on October 31 2020 and based on its report the party’s leadership will discuss the way forward.
DPP lost in the June 23 2020 Fresh Presidential Election to the nine-party Tonse Alliance led by MCP president Lazarus Chakwera.
Peter Mutharika took over the DPP leadership after the death of his brother, Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2012, propelling the party to victory in the 2014 Tripartite Elections.