Running government, recently reminded us, ex-president Peter Mutharika, “is no easy task”. As he said this to journalists last year, a fresh looking Mutharika, who by all accounts is enjoying retirement at his lakeside retirement home on Lake Malawi in Mangochi, was laughing, savoring the moment.
His once nemesis turned-successor was showing signs of inexperience—hiring a Cabinet full of family ties, dropping the ball on hiring enough women as he pledged, and dodging questions about some more electoral pledges yet to be fulfilled. And Covid-19 was beginning to show its ugly teeth. Every national woe and shared problem was now his rival’s problem to solve, no longer his. Relaxed, he could afford to laugh.
But, perhaps, running an opposition party is as difficult. Because it is where fake loyalists abandon all caution and start challenging dictates of the once omnipowerful party czar. It is where those loyalists, as Mutharika has belatedly found out, start jostling for power, including the once unimaginable party leadership seat. It is where ex-ruling parties that once presented a facade of unity crumble into factionalism like the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) today.
That is the reality of opposition politics. Chakwera, who faced many rebellions as leader of opposition is well-versed on that treacherous terrain. Mutharika is learning now.
For Mutharika, it appears his invincibility as party leader started being challenged long before he left office, precisely because it is long while in office that folks in his party recognised he was a lame duck president.
Folks, saw his advanced age and his disinterested style and recognised that he might be the vehicle for their agenda in the short-term, but not much for the future. That is why his own sister-in-law, Callista Mutharika, launched that uprising to replace him as party leader. It is why UTM was born.
It wasn’t just a matter of age, it was also a matter of substance of his rule and the lack of gravitas to control the party and government, and shape either institution’s destiny. Hallmarks of a lame duck!
Hence, he lost the country. And lost the vote.
So, with all written on the wall that his star long faded, Mutharika, somehow, is clinging to the DPP as if its a personal estate. With each day that passes, Mutharika is eluding the once mighty party a chance to launch genuine resurgence
Politics is not so complicated business at times. For one side to rise, the other must tumble, meaning DPP stands a chance of benefiting from any mistakes and misadventures of the new ruling class.
But that is just theory. In reality, because of DPP’s failure to freshen up its face, Malawians remember, each time the DPP criticises the new government, that itself was much worse in every aspect.
And that is tragic. Tragic because for our democracy to prosper, we need a vibrant opposition to keep in check those in power. But here we are, instead of quickly settling the issues of succession in the party once and for all, DPP remains at the mercy of an ageing clueless leader well-past his sale by date to the voter. It’s unable to provide checks and balances to the new rulers.
Instead, at his whim and in a bid to control the destiny of the party leadership contest, Mutharika is busy issuing orders from his beachside home on what should happen in the party, including stopping those seeking to replace him from campaigning. The reason, he said through his proxies, is because there in no vacancy in the party presidency. Many, though, might wonder if there has been an occupant in that office all along, or just a figurehead.