President Peter Mutharika’s departure to the United Kingdom on Friday provided the starkest of proof of a youth-driven ‘revolution’ supporting Vice-President Saulos Chilima as the party’s torch-bearer in the 2019 elections.
Hundreds of supporters clad in DPP regalia stiffly went through the usual routine of seeing the President off at Kamuzu International Airport yon Friday in Lilongwe.
He departed for a two-week visit to the United Kingdom that starts with his attending a three-day Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) on Monday. He will later go on a four-day State visit to Scotland.
But as soon as the chartered Presidential jet took off, and Vice-President’s convoy started returning to the Capital City, most of the youths and other officials surrounded it and broke into pro-Chilima chants.
“Wokana Chilima amangidwe [Those rejecting Chilima should be arrested],” some of the youths chanted, while others sang, “Chilima yemweyo, kuti wa-wa-wa! [Chilima is our celebrated choice].”
More chants said: “Chilima ndi boma [Chilima is government] and “bola Chilima [Chilima is better!].”
The chants clearly shocked and embarrassed top ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who could be seen disappearing to their cars.
As the presidential jet was about to taxi for take-off, a black dog temporarily blocked its route. However, the weightier incident of the unscripted chants underlined the apparent fact that thousands of DPP supporters embrace the ‘bombshell’ statement made by Mutharika’s in-law, former first lady Callista Mutharika, last week.
She spoke out that the 79-year-old President is old and must retire because he is no longer popular enough to make the party win next year’s elections. Instead, she declared that the youthful Chilima, aged 45, should be the DPP presidential candidate next year, if the party hopes to retain the presidency.
Callista Mutharika’s comments have triggered a storm both within and outside the ruling party. Most diehards have been angered, with some allegedly sending death threats to the former first lady.
But some DPP senior officials have openly backed the pro-Chilima sentiments uttered by Callista. They include the party’s director of youth, Louis Ngalande, and outspoken Member of Parliament for Mulanje South Bon Kalindo.
Meanwhile, the President has said he has not travelled abroad over the past nine months in order to save money for development projects at a time of economic challenges.
Apart from First Lady Gertrude Mutharika, the President was accompanied by Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Emmanuel Fabiano. This, then, could be one of the leanest Malawi delegations so far, although there is always an advance party of officials to such trips.
But, on the other hand, Mutharika flew in a chartered aircraft. He said during the visit he would discuss, and seek solutions on crucial issues such as security, health, education and human trafficking. He will also give a keynote address in the House of Commons before embarking on the State visit to Scotland.
On arrival at the airport, Mutharika was welcomed by Chilima. As they shook hands and chatted briefly, they seemed to enjoy their normal working relationship.