Some senior People’s Party (PP) officials are calling for a convention, arguing that the gathering would better resolve the leadership crisis facing the erstwhile governing party.
The concerned officials have since warned that appointments of members to key positions being done by president Joyce Banda would only disintegrate the party further.
Caesar Fatchi, who withdrew his candidature to challenge Banda during the August 2012 convention to choose a presidential candidate to lead PP in the May 2014 presidential race, said in an interview last week it is sad that a party that has been losing key senior officials could decide to fill those positions through “mere appointments”.
Fatchi, a Blantyre-based businessperson who said he still holds ambitions to challenge Banda at the party’s convention, said a convention holds the key to rejuvenate PP to prepare for the 2019 poll.
One PP executive member, who opted for anonymity, said handpicking of officials to the party’s key positions would not help matters because party followers respect officials duly elected at a convention.
Said the official: “When a party starts handpicking leaders, just know that is the genesis of trouble. As politicians, we have refused to learn from the past. This trend has been disastrous to all political parties in Malawi who once had a name.”
But another senior PP member, Ralph Jooma, who is vice-president (finance and administration), said in an interview that much as he supported calls for an early convention, there is nothing illegal about the recent appointments.
Banda, constantly defended by her party’s top brass as being in control despite being abroad for close to one and a half years since losing the presidency to Peter Mutharika in the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections, has apparently succumbed to pressure and appointed PP vice-president Uladi Mussa on December 31 2015 to act in her position.
Three days later, she appointed Rumphi East parliamentarian Kamlepo Kalua as third vice-president responsible for operations, replacing Harry Mkandawire who resigned in 2014.
Said Jooma: “It was our desire to have an early convention even before 2017 and it is an idea that has my support, but due to other circumstances, this could not be possible. We still have to wait.”
But PP publicity secretary Ken Msonda, in an interview also last week, said it was a nonstarter to call for a convention.
He said the party’s politburo is mandated to make decisions, including appointment of officials to vacant positions.
Argued Msonda: “How many conventions are we going to be holding if every time one leaves the party or dies we opt for a convention? Conventions are expensive, it requires K7 million to K10 million to hold one.
“In fact, all along we have been informing the nation through you, the media, that our chain of command meant the first vice-president was in charge when the president is away. When we said the president was in charge, we meant she was still our president and being updated on affairs and providing her leadership role.
“Some critics, including our own party officials, argued [that] the president needed to appoint someone to lead the party. She has done exactly that, but someone says no, a convention would be proper. Are we serious?”
Ironically, the PP constitution states that in the absence of the president for whatever reasons or due to incapacitation, duties and functions of the office shall be performed by the first vice-president or second vice-president if the first vice-president is not available or third vice-president if the second vice-president is not available.
The PP constitution also empowers its president to set the date and venue of the convention.
But all along, the PP politburo insisted that Banda was in control of party affairs, sidestepping the party constitution that empowers the most senior member to be in charge in her absence.
But when asked why the party did not refer or put to use its constitution when the leadership crisis arose, Msonda said Malawians are a difficult people and any explanation would not have made sense.
He said Mussa automatically became the only senior official after Banda following the departure of Khumbo Kachali, who was later replaced by Mkandawire, who also left, and Cassim Chilumpha, who also quit, and Brown Mpinganjira, who also resigned.
Mpinganjira had replaced Mohammad Sidik Mia, the first and only senior PP official to quit the party and his Cabinet post just weeks before the May 20 2014 polls.
Boniface Dulani, a political scientist at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, said the problem with all parties in Malawi is that they come up with constitutions just for the purposes of registration of their parties.
He said: “The party constitutions are made as a legal requirement. The PP kept saying their leader [Banda] was in charge, that is what they said. But as you are putting it, their constitution tells us clearly what should happen when the president is away.”
He said this points to lack of democratic practices.
Dulani said the announcement about Mussa taking charge was long overdue as the party had no leader on the ground.
In December 2015, PP expelled its provincial governor (North) the Reverend Christopher Mzomera Ngwira after he continued making pronouncements, according to the party, demeaning its leadership.
At a news conference in Mzuzu on August 10 last year, Ngwira declared that former vice-president during Banda’s administration, Khumbo Kachali, was an interim PP leader in her absence.
Kachali was booted out of the PP executive after he endorsed Peter Mutharika ahead of the tripartite elections. Kachali did not hide his displeasure over Banda’s decision to sideline him as a running mate and opting for a youthful Sosten Gwengwe to pair her.
Banda, after the controversies of Kachali’s comeback in August to the party, told The Nation that her estranged former vice-president had always been PP. n