From day one of the MCP-UTM alliance, the narrative was that both leaders of the alliance’s main parties wanted to be the torch bearer in the fresh presidential elections. The argument by supporters of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera was that his party amassed more votes—35 percent and far more parliamentary seats—56 against four for his partner Saulos Chilima in the May 2019 Tripartite Elections.
On the other hand, the pro-Chilima camp was arguing that their leader was popular across the country unlike Chakwera whose strength they argued was only in the Central Region. They also portended that Chilima had more potential to grow his party judging from the 20 percent of the votes he amassed just over a year after his UTM was established.
While arguments from both camps made sense, the hard truth remained; this was that if the two parties had to go into an alliance, they had to settle for one person to lead the group with the other to be the runningmate.
The process of choosing a torch bearer for the alliance entailed a lot of compromises on both sides. One can only imagine the hustle and tussle those entrusted with the ‘shuttle diplomacy’ went through. The good thing though is that finally, the roles have been defined and the job is cut out for the alliance. The MCP-UTM alliance partners are now past the stage of fighting over who was a better presidential candidate.
It is against this background that for settling for a lower position Chilima deserves a pat on the back. As he has always stated, sharing of positions should be secondary to putting on the table the agenda of the alliance. The grand agenda being to first and foremost agree on a formidable group and objectives that would serve Malawians better once the alliance is government. And so Chilima had to be the man who gave up his ambition of leading the alliance and support Chakwera. He settled for less on the secondary agenda—of who would be what in the alliance—to achieve the larger good which is to win the election and serve Malawi.
By doing this, Chilima has scored a first. He has even confounded some of his supporters who expected him and UTM to go solo should he fail to get the top slot in the alliance. That is what selfless leaders do.
By settling for the runningmate position, Chilima has just shown, once again, that it is nobler to be part of a grand fight against corruption and graft, nepotism and brazen disregard for rule of law. He has elected to wage war on behalf of the majority Malawians who are wallowing in dire poverty as some blockheads gobble up the national resources.
Settling for the position of runningmate is a veritable sign that Chilima is in this fight for Malawians and not for himself and family. When he left DPP in 2017 to form his own party, there was no sign in DPP or anywhere else that Peter Mutharika, the party’s leader, would settle for someone else as runningmate. Chilima, therefore, had nothing to lose if he had clung to DPP. He would have gone on to become Mutharika’s running mate in the next elections.
But be that as it may, Chilima still felt he had everything to win outside the blue camp. He would thus put his life and political career on the block as long as it was a move aimed to bolster a war against vices that are ripping Malawi apart. This is the context in which Chilima’s default choice of runningmate to Chakwera should be understood. It’s not about him. It’s about Malawians. This is what UTM supporters and other Malawians who might be a little disappointed that Chilima did not fight to get the ultimate position from his fellow contender, should accept and appreciate.
Now that the battle lines have been drawn—after the two alliance torch bearers have presented nomination papers—let the race begin. By the time you will be reading this article, the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal will have delivered its judgement on the elections appeal case. There will be three scenarios. It can uphold the ruling by the High Court, sitting as a Constitutional Court, in which case all activities about the fresh elections will continue. It can dismiss the lower court’s judgement in its entirety. This will mean abruptly stopping the electoral calendar. The appeal court can also vary the Concourt’s ruling—dismiss some of the lower court’s ruling and uphold others. Predicting the outcome of the appeal case is a hard nut to crack. What is certain though is that the two alliances are now set for the most dreaded fight—perhaps giving a glimpse into the judgment. While the battle field is strewn with thorns and thistles, bazookas and tanks, the harvest is sweet for the vanquisher. n