Divisions in the former governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) widened further yesterday with party president Peter Mutharika and his vice-president (South) Kondwani Nankhumwa holding separate events.
While Mutharika, the country’s immediate-past president, hosted some members of Parliament (MPs) affiliated to the party at his beachside private residence in Mangochi, about 191 kilometres away in Blantyre, secretary general Grezelder Jeffrey and eight other MPs of the party addressed a rally at Desert Ground in Blantyre Bangwe Constituency.
Mulanje Central legislator Nankhumwa, who alongside Jeffrey, Rumphi North MP Jappie Mhango and Mulanje West MP Yusuf Nthenda were expelled from DPP on Friday before seeking court relief, was not invited to the Mangochi meeting.
He was accompanied to the Bangwe rally by fellow MPs Ralph Jooma (Mangochi Monkey Bay), Gertrude Nankhumwa (Blantyre Kabula), George Milliyoni (Phalombe Central), Francis Phiso (Blantyre North), Mark Botomani (Zomba Chisi), Sameer Suleman (Blantyre City South East) and Nthenda.
On the other hand, in Mangochi, Mutharika had at least 50 MPs and other senior officials, including vice-president (East) Bright Msaka, DPP spokesperson Brown Mpinganjira and DPP Chief Whip in Parliament Symon Vuwa Kaunda.
In interview after the closed-door meeting, Kaunda said the meeting endorsed Francis Kasaila as Leader of Opposition in Parliament and that communication will be made to Parliament today.
Said Kaunda: “The position of the party is that Kasaila has been endorsed and approved as Leader of Opposition. You don’t elect yourself, it’s the party that elects you. You don’t impose yourself. The party chose Nankhumwa, and now it wants Kasaila. How difficult is it to respect that?”
Asked why they chose to defy Nankhumwa’s court injunction obtained on Saturday challenging his removal from the LoP position, the DPP Chief Whip said: “The injunction is about his membership in the party and not the position of Leader of Opposition.
“We met as MPs and 70 of us and have elected Kasaila, so communication has been made to Parliament and we expect the Speaker to make an announcement, not calling for debate or point or orders.”
On why the others were sidelined, Kaunda claimed that all members were invited except those that were expelled on Friday.
But in an interview at the Bangwe rally, Botomani, a former Information minister under Mutharika, expressed surprise at the former president’s decision to snub them, saying, the Mangochi meeting was supposed to be a uniting event.
He said: “Most MPs are not happy with what is happening. Surprisingly, when we thought this could be an opportunity to unite the party, whoever organised the meeting decided to use the strategy of divide and rule.
“Despite others expressing desire to attend the meeting, they were left out. We have a number of MPs that have been supporting Nankhumwa to remain Leader of Opposition. It’s obvious those have been left out.”
Botomani claimed some DPP leaders are not happy with the voting that took place last Thursday at Parliament where MPs chose Nankhumwa over Kasaila and Msaka as Leader of Opposition.
On her part, Mwanza Central legislator Joyce Chitsulo said she asked Kaunda on why others were left out of the Mangochi meeting.
She said: “There was communication on our forum as MPs that Mutharika had invited legislators to a meeting, and we confirmed attendance. But on Sunday morning, as we prepared to go, we saw a list on the forum with some of our names missing.
“I called Vuwa Kaunda but he told me that Mutharika had the right to choose who goes to his house or not and that those on the list were the ones to go. I thought this was a private meeting and didn’t want to argue about it, because if it was a meeting for MPs, surely we could all have gone. ”
Chitsulo said she was later called to attend the meeting, but refused to go.
Addressing the rally, Nankhumwa said he remains a DPP member and will die one.
He said: “I was surprised when I heard rumours that Joseph Mwanamvekha [had] replaced me as the party’s vice-president for the South.
“Let’s continue to rally behind the DPP. We are on a journey to 2025, but to complete it, we need to be united. Let’s avoid gossip, and if we continue we will not complete the journey.”
During his 35-minute speech which was punctuated by praise and worship songs, Nankhumwa assured DPP followers that he remains the party’s vice-president for the South and Leader of Opposition in Parliament.
He observed that the party is facing challenging times because of greed, envy and gossip among other senior members in the former governing party.
On her part, Jeffery said in her capacity as DPP secretary general, she will call for a party convention to elect new party leadership and start preparing for the next tripartite elections.
She said: “Let’s not be divided because we are all DPP. I have not endorsed any candidate. What I am saying as SG, professor Arthur Peter Mutharika will not contest again and we should go for an early convention.”
Some of the MPs and supporters were heard addressing Nankhumwa as 2025 DPP presidential candidate.
High Court Judge Charles Mkandawire granted Nankhumwa, Jeffrey, Mhango and Nthenda an injunction, restraining the party from replacing them both within the party ranks and in Parliament after they were fired for alleged indiscipline.
Reads the injunction: “It is ordered that the defendants refrain from the following: Implementing the decision to expel the claimants from the party and their respective positions. Proceeding with the intended election of a Leader of Opposition; and
“Recognising and acknowledging the purported replacements of the claimants’ posts as secretary general, vice president and treasurer general respectively.”
In an interview yesterday, lawyer Gilbert Khonyongwa, who represents Nankhumwa, wondered why the party went ahead to elect Kasaila when DPP legal adviser Charles Mhango was served the injunction.
“The injunction is very clear and counsel Mhango was served. I am yet to inquire on what happened in Mangochi, but if they proceeded to elect someone, it is clear contempt of court. So, when I am briefed, we will take the necessary steps,” he said.
Article 9(9) of the DPP constitution states that the central committee may remove a member of the national governing council from his or her position on recommendation from the disciplinary committee.
The DPP cracks became clear when Jeffrey told The Nation after the June 23 Fresh Presidential Election that Mutharika had done his part and the party needed a new person who would lead it into the future.
She said: “Whether we like it or not, a convention is important, and we will hold it as a party. But we will not do it today or tomorrow, when the time comes, we will let you know.
“Professor Mutharika has done his part and he will not contest again in future, he is retiring and we need to choose a new leader.
Mutharika lost the election to President Lazarus Chakwera who led the nine-party Tonse Alliance and partnered Mutharika’s then estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima of UTM Party on the presidential ticket.
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. – Additional reporting by Jonathan Pasungwi and Ayamba Kandodo