You wouldn’t want to be Lazarus Chakwera at the moment. There is no way this presidential wannabe must be enjoying some quality sleep at the moment. A whole year and some few-months before the 2019 presidential elections, his party is already facing some moment of truth.
Word on the street is that since Chakwera lost his maiden challenge for the presidency with Richard Msowoya as his running mate in 2014, the party has increased its electability, according to projections by respectable pollster Afrobarometer.
The recent impressive showing in the last by-elections has also imbued our countr y’s ol des t political establishment with confidence. Just maybe, 2019 is the year MCP exorcised its election ghosts and finally returned to power.
But ‘maybe’ is not a word of certainty. It means there are sharks Chakwera and company must swim against before reaching the Promised Land. In MCP at the moment, the sharks come in terms of whether the party can negotiate a heated up leadership contest, especially between his incumbent deputy, Msowoya and newcomer Sidik Mia.
It’s a fight that is keeping everyone awake in the party and that might have consequences on the general elections, too.
The fact is, MCP, after suffering defeats in 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014, needs every soul it can get. It needs resources, too. But leadership contests come at a price—bruised egos, wounded buffalos. They can be emotional and humiliating. So, Chakwera’s task is to convince both Mia and Msowoya that while the prerogative is his to appoint a running-mate, and returns a right to back either man as State vice-president, once the convention is over, both men should kiss and make up.
It won’t be easy. The campaign is already bitter. But the ‘fighting’ should be applauded because it’s exactly from this current process, the fact that people in MCP openly contest for positions, that marks the party as truly democratic.
Such has been the transformation for a party that once governed as one-man dictatorship, with a president for life and with the famous four cornerstones as tools to stifle any dissenting views.
Another regular charge against MCP has been that it’s an inward looking party—never keen to grow its support base beyond the Central Region stronghold. Right now, after making right noises about rebranding, the party is courting every Jim and Jack to join its ranks. It’s from this context where you see the party desperately courting Fischer Kondowe (did you hear that) or welcomed into its ranks Mia.
But Mia, the guy with a reported deep pocket, is the archetypical recycled guy, too. And nobody knows whether he is an asset or liability. Folks supporting him immediately point to the fact that MCP won a seat in Nsanje and another one in Blantyre for the first time since 1999 as evidence of his influence. Detractors argue the victory was part of wider citizen dissatisfaction with the DPP rule which has been anything but uninspiring since returning to power in 2014.
While some of us can only speculate on whether Mia or Msowoya are the real deal, Chakwera has one last chance to be president of this country, he gets this very same very, much academic puzzle, wrong, he blows it.
Msowoya has been part of the wave of euphoria that came with Chakwera’s rush to break the vicious circle of recycled politicians a few years ago (who must by every measure, include Mia), but some in the party argue that he is a heavyweight name the party needs to bend the elections into its favour. The open rebellion by his party’s legislators hasn’t done him much of favours, but his record
Yet, Chakwera has to decide what is good for the party in terms of winning; what is good for the country in terms of the quality of the people he surrounds himself with and will govern us, God forbid, if he goes to meet his maker while being president.
The puzzl e is also discove r ing ahead of the elections, whether Malawians can vote for MCP simply because the running-mate is from a certain region, or the candidate has an impressive resume. In the end, part of it is solving the puzzle between idealism and realism. But mostly, is ensuring MCP comes out of the current mess, stronger and looking like an alternative government.