On a hot day, July 15 last year at Ngabu in Chikwawa, Mohammed Sidik Mia did not only announce his comeback from a three-year political hiatus. He also, with the subtlety of a seasoned politician, intimated his “ambition” to partner Lazarus Chakwera in 2019 Tripartite Elections.
“It is the prerogative of the president of the party to do what he thinks is right. I will support Dr Lazarus Chakwera because I believe in what he does,” he said, cleverly quenching the rage from some Malawi Congress Party (MCP) gurus who suspected his intentions.
And barely a week later, Richard Msowoya, the party’s first vice-president, declared his interest to partner Chakwera in 2019. The old guards in the party realised Mia had not come to be a spectator. He was a participant in the political arena—a gladiator they would face.
Now their fears are confirmed.Mia will contest for the party’s vice-presidency at the next convention.
“I am vying for no other position, but the vice-presidency of the Malawi Congress Party come the convention any time soon. That is it. I stand by it and I am very ready,” he said.
However, political analysts argue that Mia’s intention presents a dilemma to Chakwera on who to pair with in 2019 between him and Msowoya while at the same time warning the two that it is not a guarantee to become running mate because one is vice-president—first or second.
“Being vice-president of a party and running-mate are different things. They follow different rules, according to our Constitution,” argues Chancellor College political analyst Ernest Thindwa.
Former speaker of Parliament and seasoned politician Sam Mpasu cites a scenario in 1994 when Bakili Muluzi left Aleke Banda, first vice-president of the party for Justin Malewezi who was second vice-president.
And Thindwa observes that in 2009 Bingu wa Mutharika left his vice-president Goodal Gondwe for Joyce Banda.
The same happened in 2014 when Peter Mutharika left his entire executive for Saulos Chilima, a rank outsider.
“Therefore, Chakwera is entitled to choose anyone to be running-mate. Be it vice-president or from outside the party,” contends Thindwa.
However, Thindwa argues, the Mia situation is coming in because in 2014 MCP did not use Msowoya well to mobilise the Northern Region votes as the whole essence of choosing a running-mate has been to win votes from another region.
“On the other hand, Mia has shown that he can mobilise votes. He’s done so in the Lower Shire. Now the question to MCP is: ‘Can Chakwera sacrifice the Northern Region votes for the South in partnering Mia?’”
Thindwa’s reasoning is supported by The Polytechnic journalism lecturer and political analyst Jacob Jimu, who argues that in the context of the bye-elections in Nsanje, whose outcome was credited to Mia, the burden is on Msowoya to demonstrate that his political value compares favourably to or even surpasses Mia’s.
“Based on the Nsanje bye-elections results, Msowoya may find it difficult to make a compelling case that he is the best candidate to partner Chakwera in the 2019 elections,” he says.
To Mpasu, the problem with MCP is that they ignored the South in 2014.
“Now they know that using the same formula will fail in 2019; hence, the desperation for someone like Mia to help woo voters from the region.”
Mpasu says right now Mia is positioning himself to become the Southern Region political gladiator as he is focusing on becoming Chakwera’s running-mate.
It is this political strategising by Mia that political scientist Mustafa Hussein envisages a dilemma for Chakwera on who to pair with between Msowoya and Mia while admitting that the Chakwera-Mia team will present a stern competition to the DPP in the South.
But Mia, whether he will be a game-changer or not, is a politician who is not stable.
Mpasu argues that he has changed parties at will since 2004—United Democratic Front (UDF) to People’s Party (PP) via Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
“In PP, when Joyce Banda decided to pair with Sosten Gwengwe, he resigned because he wanted to be running mate. That’s the danger Mia poses to MCP. Should Chakwera not make him running-mate, he might quit at the wrong time,” argues Mpasu.
Born in 1965, Mia was first elected MP for Chikwawa Nkombezi Constituency in May 2004 on the United Democratic Front (UDF) ticket. He was then re-elected MP in the May 2009 elections on the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ticket.
In April 2012, following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika and succession of Joyce Banda, Mia led a delegation of 18 fellow Cabinet ministers and DPP members who sided with Banda and became vice-president of PP, which was formed by Banda.
However, he resigned from the party position and from Cabinet as minister for Transport in January 2014, claiming he was retiring from active politics.
But in June 2017, he announced his political comeback, eventually joining MCP in July the same year.
As analysts agree that Chakwera is not bound by any law to pick Mia or Msowoya, observers will have to wait with bated breath what choice the main opposition party president will make for a running mate. n