By Nenenji Mlangeni
Saulos Chilima’s strategists and close allies are beginning to fear for the United Transformation Movement ( UTM) leader’s sanity as the political group struggles to get the anticipated acceptance among the Malawi public.
After failing to make headway with his attempt to take over Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidency, Chilima launched UTM with pomp and colour, hoping to buy into the Malawi public with ease.
But four months into the group’s media hyped existence, Chilima is driven into despair as the group struggles to gain traction and as its popularity wanes rather too fast.
According to one of his media strategists, the recent Ndirande rally has been the roughest blow on his mind yet.
“This was the most important rally of all. When a political party gains acceptance in Ndirande, you know you are on the right track. We went there and the public turnout was too low.
It left all of us in a shock and it deflated the boss,” said the strategist.
The rally came just a few days after the Registar of Political Parties had rejected UTM’s application to register as a political party on the grounds that the group had sought to deceive its way to registration.
Chilima had thought holding a rally in Ndirande would measure his popularity, according to the strategist.
“Ndirande is a political barometer and it measured us very badly. And that reality check has struck bwana (the boss) very badly.
That is why he has gone quiet these past two weeks,” said the advisor.
All the residents we interviewed in the township on their views about the rally dismissed Chilima and UTM.
We interviewed some of the residents in the townships on their views about the rally and all people we spoke to dismissed Chilima and UTM.
Aubrey Misomali, a furniture maker at Chimsewu in the township, attended the rally.
“We had heard a lot about UTM but we never understood what it represented. So on this day I went to the rally and Chilima spoke for a long time but he said nothing sensible.
I left before he had finished speaking and I won’t bother about this guy anymore,” said Misomali.
Among the interviewees, Chilima’s malaria drug pronouncement was a measure of his incompetence and lack of knowledge in government affairs and a demonstration of his love for sensational but false promises.
At the rally Chilima said his administration would be giving out free malaria drugs to all patients in public hospitals.
“That shows he doesn’t know what he is doing.
It is very strange that a Vice President that he is, does not know that government gives free treament in its hospitals including malaria drugs,” said Maria Somanje, a groceries shop owner along the Makata Road in the township.
“In my view, Chilima should not have started this group of his out of anger and hate. If he had started it out of principle, he would not have been telling us senseless things such as giving us free malaria drugs because we get them free already from government hospitals.
“So if at his level he doesnt know what he is talking about, then why should Malawians have any business taking him seriously?”
Heightening his desperation is the fact that the only rallies that attract reasonable crowds are those conducted by Chilima himself.
None of the other leaders are able to woo people to attend their rallies and there is literally nothing about UTM in many parts of the country, barely seven months into the elections.
For instance, last weekend, one of the leaders of the group and aspiring MP on UTM ticket Ben Chidyaonga had a nightmare on Sunday when he tried to hold a rally in Thyolo Thava.
People did not attend it and he was forced to call it off.
This means UTM is a one-man band and Chilima has the huge task of visiting every acre of this land to popularise UTM. That is an arduous task.
Worse still, failure by UTM to get registered is proving to be a blow on an already ulcerated wound.
As it is, UTM is an illegal political group in Malawi. And as an illegal organization, UTM cannot present to Malawi Electoral Commission a monitor for voter registration, a candidate for councillor, a candidate for MP and a presidential candidate because the group does not exist in the laws of Malawi.
The developments are driving Chilima deeper into despair as he sees the Presidency he has so much craved for vanishing.
Some quarters even fear that with the ballot prospects getting dimmer and dimmer, Chilima may resort to backdoor means to at least get the Presidency before the elections next year.
But it is his state of mind that is deeply worrying those close to him.
“He is now resorting to too much drinking.
He is doing it thinking it will remove stress. I can say it is stress that is causing it and drinking is causing him even more stress. We are worried about the destruction he is inflicting on himself,” said another of his aides.
The public can at least bear testimony to his drinking escapades. Chilima has been attending some of his rallies while completely drunk. For example, at a rally in Mchinji recently, he was captured struggling to walk properly as he was too drunk.