A few days after Speaker of Malawi Parliament Henry Chimunthu Banda announced that he will run for the DPP presidency; a faction loyal to the party’s interim leader has made swift changes to stifle his chances at the convention on April 17.
The convention, which will either rubber-stamp the late President Bingu wa Mutharika’s wishes to put his younger brother as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) torch bearer in next year’s election or elect Chimunthu Banda, is a major litmus test for a party seeking to regain its lost glory exactly a year after it lost its founding leader.
But some Members of Parliament in the Central Region and other senior rank and file members of the party in the Northern Region loyal to Chimunthu Banda are spoiling for a fight if the Mutharika faction goes ahead to force changes designed to cripple their candidate’s chances of winning.
“A few people in Honourable Mutharika’s camp have already issued instructions to party members across the country that only one or two members of the constituency will attend the convention and be allowed to vote when the party’s constitution allows nine delegates from each constituency,” said DPP MP for Kasungu South-East Bokosi Grayson Khamba. According to article eight of the DPP constitution, the national political conference [convention] shall consist of “Nine duly accredited delegates from each constituency drawn from the main committee, the women’s committee and the youth committee.”
Khamba, a member of the party’s politburo, also revealed that the venue of the convention has been shifted from Lilongwe to Blantyre.
“Only the national governing council [NGC] can decide on the venue and make any changes and as a member of the NGC I don’t remember attending any such meeting that made changes,” said Khamba.
Fredrick Kamwangala, DPP MP for Lilongwe North-West, accused the Mutharika camp of political machinations meant to steal the election.
“Some of us do not care who wins at the convention, but we care about transparency and accountability so that the winner wins through a fair democratic process and our party regains power,” he said.
Apparently, the DPP NGC during a meeting last December at Wamkulu Palace, endorsed a proposal made by the Central Region MPs to hold the convention in Lilongwe.
“In December last year, we met at Dr Kalilani’s residence where as MPs in the Central Region proposed to her that the convention be held in Lilongwe at the Bingu International Conference Centre to honour our father and founder of the DPP,” said DPP MP for Ntchisi North-West Herbert Josiah Bimphi, NGC member.
Bimphi said he was in attendance when the NGC agreed and endorsed that Lilongwe hosts the convention.
“We all agreed because it was going to be a befitting honour for our late president. We also said it was cost-effective to transport all delegates from all the regions and that in the spirit of rotation, the Central Region deserved to host the convention after the South hosted our first ever conference,” he said.
MP for Mzimba South Paul Shawa warned that if the party does not adhere to the constitution, the elections will be contested or they will go ahead and seek an injunction stopping it altogether.
But Nicholas Dausi, chairman of the party’s convention and party spokesperson, on Sunday dismissed assertions that the party has made changes, saying the NGC meets this week.
He, however, could not say no when asked whether the proposals to move the venue and reduce the number of delegates have already been put forward.
“We can’t do all that without the endorsement of the NGC which will meet this week,” he said.
Dausi confirmed that a meeting of the NGC at the Wamkulu Palace in Lilongwe had endorsed that the convention be held in the Central Region after agreeing to move it from December 18 to this month.
Dausi also lashed out at MPs that have gone public accusing the party of being secretive. So far, Thyolo Thava MP Lifred Nawena and Chikhwawa North MP Grain Malunga, have been quoted in the media, saying the party is being secretive about the convention.
“When we were changing the date of the convention from December to April this year, Hon Nawena, Hon Malunga, had left the party after the president died and joined PP. They only [re] joined us in February this year and, therefore, they can’t accuse us of being secretive because they were not there,” he said.
Meanwhile, privately-owned Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) is initiating a face-to-face radio debate between the party’s aspiring presidential candidates in DPP.
The local radio wants Peter and Chimunthu Banda to debate economic, political and social issues ahead of the party’s convention.
The invitation letter reads: “As a media organisation that strives to help in the consolidation of national as well as intra-party democracy, we would like to organise a debate in which the aspiring party presidents will sell themselves to the delegates.