Vice-President Saulos Chilima has accused President Peter Mutharika of failing to curb political violence as the country moves towards the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
The Vice-President, who is also president of UTM Party registered after he severed ties with the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) last June, also challenged Mutharika’s claims that opposition parties have hired election rigging experts.
But presidential press secretary and spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani faulted Chilima, saying his statement at a news conference at Bingu International Convention Centre in Lilongwe yesterday fell short of providing evidence that DPP was sponsoring political terror. Kalilani also said the President was within his rights to warn masterminds of the alleged vote rigging plot.
In his address that had people glued to Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) television and radio that aired it live as evidenced by varying reactions on social media, Chilima was visibly composed, calm and focused.
The timing of the news conference, coming days before presidential aspirants present their nomination papers replete with running mates to Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), had stirred speculation that Chilima was set to unveil his running mate or indicate whether his party had sealed an electoral alliance with other opposition parties.
But on both fronts, Chilima, a former private sector executive who rose to the position of Airtel Malawi managing director before quitting to partner Mutharika as running mate in the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections, pledged to comeback with election-related announcements “within few days”.
Chilima, widely promoted by his initials SKC for Saulos Klaus Chilima, attacked Mutharika for presiding over corruption and nepotism, citing recent suspected corruption revelations, including an alleged K53 billion fraud at Immigration Department as symptoms of a corrupt administration.
Reacting to revelations that the K53 billion claim has quotations of K60 000 for a shirt and K100 000 for a belt, he said: “You have to be sick in the head to buy a shirt at K60 000.”
On violence, the Vice-President said DPP was unleashing a “satanic wave of terror” and challenged Mutharika to take personal responsibility to stop the violence.
He said: “Mr. President, the police in Malawi is there to protect innocent people and not protect criminals! You cannot, Mr. President, allow your few supporters to break the law with arrogance, impunity and then shamelessly stand on a podium to preach peace.
“This hypocrisy must stop. You cannot stand on a podium and advocate peaceful elections and at the same time close your eyes to the realities of the ugliness of incivility of violence from your camp.”
Chilima was also blunt when asked his thoughts about the President’s recent rigging claims, saying: “You [the President] say you know who is here to rig, you know the equipment is here for rigging and you know where the equipment is; and then you are doing nothing about it? As President, you could have sent police to arrest those involved…”
But Kalilani accused Chilima of exploiting the violence for political gain and described his statement as a pack of falsehoods.
He said: “I don’t agree that the President hasn’t condemned violence. He has strongly condemned the violence on several occasions on rallies and issued a strong worded violence. It is an unsubstantiated claim that the violence is being perpetrated by DPP cadets.
“No one has even identified those arrested in Mangochi as DPP cadets. Let him be factual or challenge what the police have said.”
On rigging allegations, Kalilani said Chilima “cannot tell the President what to do. The government machinery will pounce on the rigging plot when it is necessary”.
Ironically, after being declared winner of the 2014 presidential race, Mutharika is on record to have dismissed his predecessor Joyce Banda’s claims that the election was rigged, telling British Broadcasting Corporation on May 22 2014: “I don’t see how an opposition party can rig elections.”
In his reaction to Chilima’s statement in an interview, University of Malawi’s Chancellor College social scientist Wiseman Chijere Chirwa lauded the Vice-President for what he described as a polished speech. He said Chilima delivered his statement with “a sense of maturity” while highlighting the major points UTM Party is rallying on to fight the Mutharika administration.
Said Chijere Chirwa: “He had a clear message which was about political violence. It came out very strongly. If he had dwelt much on other issues, the key message could have been adulterated, but he was smart enough to still send across other messages.”
Previously, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera and United Democratic Front (UDF) president Atupele Muluzi also condemned the violence in statements while Mutharika spoke through a statement signed by his press secretary. Mutharika’s statement fell short of rebuking DPP supporters accused of perpetrating violence.
Mutharika is on record to have said that he picked Chilima “from a list of 40 possible names for running mate” because Chilima had a background in business and was decisive. However, the pair, like their predecessors before them, fell out along the way. na