- As APM remains mute over his political prospects
Former president Peter Mutharika has left his party, the DPP, second guessing about whether he would live up to his public announcement in June to retire from active politics.
Mutharika said in his first public statement after losing the June 23 presidential re-run that he would retire from active politics but has remained mute over a month after making that statement.
The statement ignited debate on succession plan in DPP with some commentators, arguing that Mutharika, who turned 80 last month, is too old to successfully lead the party as it strives to bounce back to power in 2025.
DPP vice-president (South) Kondwani Nankhumwa said in an interview on Thursday that Mutharika had not formally told the party about his decision to retire from politics.
He said: “He has not communicated anything to that effect so nobody knows what will happen next. We are just waiting [to hear] from the secretary general [Grezeider Jeffrey].
“Probably, we will have a picture on the way forward after the national governing council [NGC] meeting. So until the NGC meets, we can’t speculate anything.”
Nankhumwa, who is also Leader of Opposition in Parliament, said the NGC would meet after Mutharika consults with the party’s secretary general.
Three weeks ago Nankhumwa told the media after meeting DPP leaders from the South, as part of the election postmortem, that the party was planning to hold a national convention to discuss the succession plan, among other things.
But it appears Mutharika’s hold up to officially communicate his next step has put the former governing party in a dilemma on how to proceed on a rebuilding exercise ahead of the next tripartite elections.
Meanwhile, political commentators have said the DPP needs to call for an emergency NGC meeting or a convention to map the way forward.
Mustapha Hussein, a political scientist from Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi (Unima), observed that Mutharika’s silence on his future was not surprising because of the country’s political parties’ leadership structures.
Hussein noted that apart from the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), most political parties in Malawi are either owned by individuals or families.
Observed Hussein: “They command loyalty and party operations are under their control and the ownership syndrome complicates things.
“For DPP, it is advisable that an urgent convention be convened for party members or delegates to make choices.
“Most importantly, Mutharika must allow the party to democratise or leave it to the people to make choices and key decisions and in that way the party will make progress.”
Governance commentator Makhumbo Munthali said the challenge political parties have in Malawi is the existence of non-functional NGCs. This, he said, ultimately makes leaders personalise the parties.
“In the case of DPP, its NGC has not met for a very long time yet there were several critical decisions made by their party leader instead of such decisions being made collectively,” he said.
Munthali claimed since he has absolute powers, Mutharika may have been avoiding the NGC meeting for personal interests, such as wanting to impose his own person, “which is undemocratic from a governance perspective.”
Said Munthali: “The future of DPP has to be considered, debated and decisions formalised. In the present set-up, the expectation was after the loss, an emergency NGC meeting would have been convened already to map the way forward.
“So this situation is an issue that raises the functionality of the party NGC. Does it really function or it just rubberstamps decisions already made by its leader?”
Since DPP held its last elective national convention in 2018 in which Mutharika was elected unopposed, he has made several changes among senior party officials contrary to Article 8 (C) of its constitution which stipulates that only the national convention has powers to elect office holders into the party’s various positions.
There have also been growing calls for Mutharika to voluntarily step down as party president but, while he has not personally reacted to the outcry, Nankhumwa also trashed such calls.
While describing the demands as outrageous, Nankhumwa told Tiuzeni Zoona programme on Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) last Sunday Mutharika would not resign but rather would continue discharging his duties.
Mutharika took over the DPP presidency in 2012 following the sudden death of his elder brother and former president Bingu.