Presentation of nomination papers ahead of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) convention closed at 5pm on Tuesday without the party’s long-time strongman and current president John Tembo handing in his.
Tembo had indicated at the weekend he would seek a third term due to pressure from the party’s membership.
Soon after former Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) president Felix Jumbe presented his nomination papers at around 12.15pm on Tuesday, returning officer and MCP administrative secretary Potiphar Chidaya read out the names of the seven presidential aspirants.
Conspicuously missing from the list was Tembo. Besides Jumbe and former secretary general Betson Majoni, the other names on the list were the party’s former director of political affairs Eston Kakhome, former Cabinet minister Jodder Kanjere, Malawi Assemblies of God president the Reverend Dr Lazarus Chakwera and newly retired chief justice Lovemore Munlo.
Estranged secretary general Chris Daza also presented his nomination papers for the presidency yesterday afternoon. Majoni is said to have presented his papers on Monday.
Tembo on Tuesday told The Nation the issue of his candidature is between himself and MCP, not the media.
He said a final list of candidates will be announced by Chidaya at the close of the presentation of the papers.
‘Tembo would not contest’
Political and governance commentator Dr Henry Chingaipe said Tembo’s silence on the nominations and the fact that many people have come forward to contest for the party’s presidency are signs that Tembo would not contest at the convention scheduled to start this Saturday in Lilongwe.
He said: “I think there have been a few indications earlier that he would not stand and the fact that he has not submitted his papers just confirms that situation. And, if he were going to stand, you would not have seen a lot of people coming forward to contest [for the MCP presidency].”
Chingaipe said there is a further indication that the party went out approaching people capable of leading it to contest during the elections with the full knowledge that Tembo was not contesting again.
“At the same time, Tembo did not want to fall into a trap of anointing a successor. He left it to the party to do the vetting,” he said.
Chingaipe said despite not anointing any of the candidates, Tembo has exercised his authority while at the same time avoiding what happened in the United Democratic Front (UDF) when Bakili Muluzi hand-picked the late Bingu wa Mutharika.
Tembo has so far not declared his position on the forthcoming convention, but on Tuesday sources close to both Tembo and MCP confided to The Nation that Tembo is likely not going to seek re-election during the convention.
Chingaipe said if Tembo indeed bows out, that would be a huge symbolic break from the post-colonial politicians.
‘MCP presidency for sale’
Tembo’s absence was clear among MCP supporters Tuesday.
As Jumbe was presenting his papers outside MCP headquarters building at the City Centre in Lilongwe, one of the party sympathisers, William Phakamisa, was seen displaying posters reading: ‘MCP presidency for sale’.
Chidaya confirmed that the closing day for the nomination papers was yesterday (Tuesday), but said to accommodate people from out of Lilongwe, the party would be receiving the nominations until Thursday.
He also said the list of the presidential hopefuls is not final because it will be assessed by the party’s credentials committee.
Chidaya, who could not give a full list of who is contesting for which position, said former Aford MP who also served as Cabinet minister Richard Msowoya has presented papers to contest for the vice-presidency. He is the only candidate on that position so far, according to Chidaya.
Born John Zenus Ungapake Tembo, popularly known as JZU by his admirers, the MCP president is perhaps the longest serving politician in the MCP as well as in the country after he first contested for a parliamentary seat in the pre-independence multiparty elections in 1961.
Rising through the ranks while holding some of the key positions in government, including that of minister of Finance and minister of State and governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi, he was one of the key figures in MCP throughout the party’s 30-year rule under founding president, the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda.