Vice-President Saulos Chilima yesterday broke his silence by announcing that he will leave the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), contrary to expectations of those urging him to challenge President Peter Mutharika.
The announcement still leaves Malawians in suspense on his political future as he has not committed to contest in the 2019 Tripartite Elections nor hinted on his next move.
Some analysts have, however, hailed Chilima—who remains Vice-President until the end of his term next May—for deciding to leave the DPP, indicating it might be a strategy ahead of a bigger announcement concerning his political career.
At a press briefing in Lilongwe, where he made the announcement, Chilima defended his decision not to contest at the convention, insisting that he is not afraid but implying that he does not belong in the DPP and does not want to be perceived to be fighting the party’s “own founders and owners.”
“I have decided not to contest on the DPP ticket for any position at the forthcoming party’s convention, let alone challenge the party’s presidency. I wish all delegates to the convention the best of luck and God’s blessings,” he said.
In his statement, Chilima described the country as riddled with corruption, nepotism and cronyism, but fell short of mentioning names of those responsible for the wrongdoing.
He said his vision was a Malawi that promoted love, peace, unity, compassion and knows no tribalism, nepotism and creed.
“A Malawi whose citizens will once again walk tall wherever they will go because of the discipline and respect for authority, law and order. A Malawi that will be corrupt-free, a haven for hard work and where its citizens will protect its assets,” he said.
However, Chilima’s address and responses to the questions from the media gave the impression that this was not the end of his political career.
Responding to a question on whether the decision not to contest meant he had left the DPP, Chilima said the decision on whether to contest as a presidential candidate or not, or whether to support another candidate had not been made.
“That decision has not been made; nobody has ever mentioned that to me. I have seen reports in different forums that people are calling for my candidature for 2019 but at this stage no decision has been made. When and if I make a decision to that effect, we shall communicate,” he said.
The Vice-President had only kind words for Mutharika, expressing his gratitude for “growing me out of the baby that I was”, perhaps in subtle reference to remarks Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe made at the advent of the calls for Chilima to succeed the current President.
He saluted personal sacrifices that the country’s freedom and democracy fighters—such as the Catholic bishops in 1992 and the late Reverend John Chilembwein 1915—made, saying his own sacrifices pale in comparison.
“There comes a time in everyone’s life when one has to bid farewell to personal comfort for the benefit of his compatriots. It is a decision that our forefathers made as I have already said. It is a decision that I have made,” he said.
Addressing the Chilima Movement, which for months has been calling for Mutharika to leave the stage to him to steer the DPP in 2019, the Vice-President thanked them for the courage and determination they had displayed despite all odds.
He would not, however, accept that his decision not to contest was a betrayal to the movement, opting not to speak on their behalf but describing their trust in him as humbling.
But the decision leaves the Chilima Movement confused as its main objective was vouching for Chilima to contest as presidential candidate at the DPP convention.
To those in the DPP who cowered from the agenda calling for transformational leadership, he described their silence and inaction as being complicit in the plunder of the country’s wealth.
Politics and governance commentator Henry Chingaipe described Chilima’s decision as bold and mature, saying it shows he is not someone who reacts emotionally.
“He has been decisive by making it known that he is leaving DPP. He is not indecisive on his future and it is clear he is deploying a political strategy by keeping information away from his detractors,” he said.
However, Chingaipe conceded that whatever decision Chilima will eventually make will be too late because the political landscape was changing and other parties were decided on the 2019 leadership.
He also backed Chilima for diagnosing the challenges the country faces with the hope that in his ultimate decision he will expound on how to deal with them.
On his part, Livingstonia Synod-based political scientist George Phiri said Malawians might feel shortchanged but Chilima had exercised his right to make a decision.
“People were right to have certain expectations from him, but he has said he will make a decision soon on his next steps: whether to form a party or leave politics altogether,” he said.
On whether time was on Chilima’s side, Phiri said the Vice-President might be a person who makes his decisions strategically.
He said by leaving DPP, and if the Chilima Movement follows him, DPP will be weakened to a degree.
The long-awaited address attracted a horde of journalists, who spilled over to the balcony for lack of space, and a heavy police presence at the Office of the Vice-President. n