We have always criticised political party founders for personalising political parties they founded. We have said that when you found a political party at some point you should be able to let go for others to lead it. Clinging to it, we have argued, is not only undemocratic, it also kills the party.
The United Democratic Front (UDF) and Alliance for Democracy (Aford) are some of the political parties that have greatly suffered from the founder’s syndrome. The syndrome has not spared the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Under its founder, Bakili Muluzi, UDF got 49 of the 194 parliamentary seats. But in 2004, after serving the constitutional two terms as president Muluzi still wanted to control the party even after Bingu wa Mutharika became the leader of the party and State president. This forced Mutharika to leave and form the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in February 2005. This was the beginning of the attrition of UDF now with a paltry 14 MPs mostly restricted in the Yao speaking districts of Mangochi, Machinga and Balaka.
A DPP victory in the 2009 election led to mass defections from the UDF to the ruling DPP. To date, UDF is still headed by the Muluzi family—with Bakili Muluzi’s son Atupele as the head.
Alliance for Democracy (Aford) was founded by trade unionist Chakufwa Tom Chihana in 1992 after operating as an underground movement. The party won 36 seats in the 1994 elections. Mired by internal politics, Aford won six seats in the 2006 elections. In the 2014 elections, the party only managed to get one seat by Chihana’s son Enoch, who has been the party’s head since 2013. In between the party has been headed by Godfrey Shaba and Dindi Gowa Nyasulu. Aford is still conflicted with internal politics bordering on problems akin to the founder’s syndrome. Two weeks ago, the party held a convention where two factions each elected Karonga legislator Frank Mwenifumbo and Enoch Chihana as presidents. It is still unclear who the party’s legitimate president is. What is very clear is that Aford has metamorphosed from being the third biggest party in Malawi when its founder came third in the parliamentary and presidential elections in 1994 to a small party.
In the run-up to the 2009 elections and as DPP presidential candidate Bingu wa Mutharika appointed Joyce Banda as his runningmate. But once in power Bingu began to groom his brother, Peter Mutharika (APM), to be his successor. Banda (JB) refused to accept the move which led to her expulsion from the party. In 2011, JB formed the People’s Party (PP). When Bingu died in April 2012, JB became president leaving the DPP under APM in opposition. There was a mass defection of MPs to PP similar to the one that the UDF administration experienced under Bingu.
Following Bingu’s death, the DPP National Governing Council chose APM on April 6 2012. In the run-up to the 2014 elections, APM roped in Saulos Klaus Chilima, a rank outsider, from the private sector as his runningmate. The pair won the polls.
Fast foreward, APM has on several occasions declared that he will be the party’s torch-bearer in the next election. But a few weeks ago, Bingu’s widow, Callista, shook the DPP from its roots when she openly declared that her brother-in-law (APM) who is now 79 would be too old for the rigorous work of the State President. Her choice to lead the DPP in next year’s elections—is the young Chilima. Since that declaration, DPP has been split with some of its legislators notably Patricia Kaliati for Mulanje West and DPP’s national director of Women, Blantyre City East MP Noel Masangwi and the party’s national director of youth Louis Ngalande boldly refusing to endorse Mutharika. Other DPP MPs who have publicly backed Chilima are Blantyre City South legislator, Allan Ngumuya and Bon Kalindo for Mulanje South. Once again, the founder’s syndrome is eating away at the DPP.
Save for a campaign in DPP aimed at garnering support for APM as the party’s candidate in next year’s elections, there is no predicting what is being cooked in the backroom of each faction. But two things are clear with Callista’s declaration in support of Chilima; one is that DPP has never been the same. The second is that the Tsunami in DPP is because Callista’s choice confounds the founder’s syndrome.