Last Saturday the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), a quasi-religious body with membership from all faith groups in the country, organised interdenominational prayers ahead of the May 21 Tripartite Elections. The aim of the prayers, where presidential candidates signed peace accords, was to make various political parties and presidential candidates commit to peaceful elections. PAC organised similar prayers in 2014 which all presidential candidates attended.
Fast forward to this year, all but the DPP presidential candidate Peter Mutharika, attended the prayers at the Bingu International Conference Centre in Lilongwe. Mutharika did not give any reason for not attending the Lilongwe prayers, save for the fact that a day earlier his office (OPC) released a statement that Mutharika would be going to the North on Saturday and that he would hold political rallies on the way.
Five days later, Mutharika is back in the Capital City and attends similar prayers—dubbed Prayer Breakfast—organised by some Pentecostal churches at his backyard—Kamuzu Palace. All the other presidential candidates did not attend the Kamuzu Palace prayers where Mutharika signed a peace accord.
The two events—held five days apart—to achieve the same objectives show how egotistic Mutharika is. He could not bow down to the level of PAC or his political opponents because he is conceited and has an inflated sense of his importance. Secondly, he cannot drink and dine with political opponents who always rubbish his developmental achievements. He has demonstrated his stubborn anti-interparty democracy stance.
Holding his own prayers was meant to show that what PAC—whose leaders he does not see eye to eye—can do with church leaders, what he, Mutharika, can also do with other faith groups. It was a matter of flexing his political muscle and an outpouring of the same egotism alluded to above.
The venue of the prayers—State House—was also deliberate. Apart from being restrictive and not a neutral place, Kamuzu Palace was deliberately chosen to give some legitimacy to the State House function after the prayers held a few days earlier.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the venue was designed to give Mutharika the prominence he craves for during this campaign period. The organisers of the Prayer Breakfast have said they invited all presidential candidates. But how could a function where all presidential candidates are supposed to be accorded the same respect and prominence make one of them a guest of honour? So here again we see the organisers of the prayers imbuing and buffeting Mutharika with a sense of self-importance if not campaigning for him. Because he enjoys it and especially during this campaign time when anything goes that can give you more votes, Mutharika exuberantly nods to it.
Two things come out very clearly from the PAC prayers held at BCC on Saturday which Mutharika snubbed and the prayers at Kamuzu Palace five days later where he was the sole presidential candidate. The first is that after five multiparty presidential elections and going into the sixth, and 25 years into the plural political dispensation, some political leaders including Mutharika, are nowhere near embracing inter-party democracy and its values. Granted Mutharika is the State President and deserves respect, but where circumstances demand equal treatment with other people, and a level-playing field like in these elections, he has no choice but listen to the voice of reason and play according to the rules of the game—written or unwritten. Mutharika is still the President of this country until another president is sworn-in and so he is expected to lead by example. Always!
The second is that the faith community in the country is so divided such that they easily play into the hands of political leaders who capitalise on this disunity. It all boils down to the fact that faith groups in the country have oversight over a big political constituency which politicians will always want to tear into by playing the divide and rule game.