There is a tide in affairs of men, it’s said. For former President Peter Mutharika, it must be infuriating and bewildering— in equal measure—to see the pace at which gallons of loyalists are turning against him—reminding him, not in idioms or veiled language, that its time he left the stage.
First it was Ken Msonda, the self-proclaimed foot soldier who reminded all and sundry that the party needs to put the debacle of election defeat behind it and start etching for itself a new bright future.
That future, Msonda reckoned, doesn’t have the former president at its pinnacle, but perhaps, a new and more energetic leader. Such a noble call, obviously, only if this wasn’t DPP, a party that long outsourced reason. It was seen as an affront.
So the party’s spin doctor, Nicholas Dausi, him of flamboyant vocabulary, rapidly rebuked ‘foot soldier’—a non-entity in the former ruling party by any measure—arguing, matter-of-factly, the party was still mourning the election defeat.
Well, voices of reason often are in abundance when a party is no longer in government, unlike when it’s inside. Tempers, too, apparently, tend to fray easily when your trappings of power are gone.
So, when out of all people, the very same village idiot whom the party had often dispatched as a thorn to its opponents, the firebrand Grezelder Jeffrey—the whole CEO of the party—went on attack, the party president became eerily uncomfortable.
The party needs to be revitalised, reasoned Jeffrey, in public. And there is a need for a level playing field, too, in the search for the new broom. And she, in her capacity as custodian of the party, will ensure that’s done sooner than later.
Mutharika was more than startled. Unlike Msonda, the lady from Nkhotakota, ignore her endless past goofs and her shooting from the hip style, is not some busybody politician on the party’s periphery, but someone with real powers to call for an elective convention.
For Mutharika and his ever dwindling clique of loyalists, this was too much.
Angry and confused, Mutharika ordered Jeffrey’s immediate dismissal as secretary general before changing his mind at the conclave; nodding for the party’s disciplinary committee to summon Jeffrey and those in her cohorts –who are calling for early presidential elections.
So much for a party that once claimed to be progressive and democrat. And led by a whole constitutional law professor who lived and practised in America for four decades!
But, perhaps, it was anger. According to a source who attended the Mangochi conclave, the ex-president “felt offended by remarks that he has done his part and the party needs to go for an early convention.”
But, again, maybe this was just DPP being DPP. Typical autocracy when it’s disguised as democracy.
Jeffrey called Mutharika’s bluff and refused to go, arguing more pointedly that only a convention could fire her. Mutharika backed down.
But Jeffrey has not preached new wisdom. Mutharika’s own sister in law, Callista Mutharika, once openly stated the same truth while Mutharika was still perching at State House and presiding over a dysfunctional and corrupt State. She said ought to retire and allow a more energetic leader to captain the ship.
The voters at the polls agreed with that gospel. Msonda started the chorus on behalf of many in the DPP. Jeffrey has provided lethal ammunition.
But its Callista’s old call that resonates more with the currents blowing in DPP today.
See, Jeffrey—like the once arrogant former first lady—is not all suddenly a bastion of wisdom today. She has only read the writing on the wall and realised Mutharika is now a liability to the party. She has also sensed vulnerability. Like Calista who was championing Saulos Chilima’s soon-to-be rebellion, Jeffrey too has an invisible army behind her. Mutharika beware!
How Mutharika plays it next is what will determine the fate of a party whose powers are already diminishing. Internal strife will only hasten its downfall.
Mutharika’s clinging to power will only precipitate the inevitable rebellion, as it always happens in former ruling parties. UDF faced the same difficult periods and handled it miserably with more nepotistic and greed filled succession plan that alienated many of its stalwarts and supporters. MCP faced rebellions –plenty of them—but survived because nobody has ever been in position to claim ownership of the party since Kamuzu Banda’s coffin was lowered into the grave in the Capital.
So Mutharika cannot stop the inevitable, but can manage the process in a manner that will restore a bit of dignity to his chequared leadership resume. He is yet to come to terems with how far power has ebbed from him and how out of touch and out of sync his desire to continue running the DPP appears to both millennial and old folks alike. And like the majority of the DPP hierarchy, he is yet to start the introspection on why the country overwhelmingly rejected the DPP kleptocracy.