By Flemmings Kayange
The fidgeting by some Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members about President Peter Mutharika’s choice of Everton Chimulirenji as his running mate in the coming elections is much ado about nothing.
At worst, it gives the opposition the advantage to exploit whatever little measure of discontent is there among some DPP members to try to gain mileage out of a game the opposition parties have been thoroughly beaten.
It is a fact that the opposition have been ambushed on this one. They have been taught politics.
They had in mind their own candidates from the so-called ‘gossip list’ and probably, they plotted how they would attack.
On Friday, when Mutharika announced he had chosen Chimulirenji who was nowhere even in anyone’s wildest imaginations, it was a bombshell that hit the opposition so hard. It destroyed their lines of attack and their plans.
But they are being offered an opportunity to attack by those among the DPP ranks who are also still being weighed down by surprise and disbelief.
It is critical that the DPP fraternity should wise up quickly and do all they can to repel such dirty tricks.
It is the argument of this article that Mutharika has made his choice for the good of the party and the nation.
To begin with, the first problem around vice presidency in Malawi is that we pack too much and unnecessary meaning and responsibility in the office – to the extent that we breach the Constitution.
During his unveiling of his running mate on Friday, Mutharika argued that “the vice president cannot and will never be co-president.” Some analysts have interpreted this as Mutharika’s attempt to have an impotent vice president. This is far from being the case.
In making this statement, Mutharika was only interpreting the Constitution. Section 79 says “there shall be a vice president… who shall ASSIST the President.”
The immediate questions are: What is to assist? Who is an assistant? What is the job of an assistant?
The next important question is: What makes a good assistant?
Our political system left the job of looking for an assistant to the President in the hands of the one who needs to be assisted, in this case the President. So who is supposed to know better the kind of person he wants to serve as their assistant? Is it the President who needs to be assisted or those of us that are sitting in the stands?
When he unveiled Chimulirenji as his running mate on Friday, Mutharika explained that he had chosen the man who had the right qualities, according to his needs, to be his assistant.
He described Chimulirenji as “a man of integrity, maturity and a long serving member of the Party”. He further said Chimulirenji is a man who understands the difference between vice president (as stipulated in the constitution) and deputy president (which is not provided for in the constitution and is not applicable in Malawi).
“I believe Hon Chimulirenji will make a great Vice President and help me run government for the next five years,” he said.
This shows that Mutharika is satisfied in his choice. He see Chimulirenji as a man who will ably assist him as he serves the people of Malawi.
One can also argue that Mutharika’s decision on his running mate and his description of him is informed by the experience Malawi and the DPP has had with some vice presidents.
Let’s start with the country. Three vice presidents have held the country hostage, apparently because they did not understand the job of a vice president as stipulated in the Constitution. Cassim Chilumpha, Joyce Banda and Saulos Chilima saw themselves as co-presidents and not assistants to the President. In their time, there have been constant squabbling between the office of the vice president and that of the President.
It follows then that such disagreement in the two most important offices in the land takes away attention to most important issues of national development. Stability at the top is essential for government to focus on issues that affect the people.
In the case of the party, it would be amiss for anyone any one to argue that Mutharika’s intention in choosing Chimulirenji is to destroy the DPP. What would he seek to achieve in doing this?
Having vice presidents who fail to understand the limits of their office has affected the unity and stability of the DPP. Both Joyce Banda and Saulos Chilima have put the unity of the DPP to test. Their actions have risked weakening the party. As politically experienced as he is, Mutharika is aware of this and would want to protect the party.
In choosing Chimulirenji, Mutharika wants to protect the DPP from a vice president who oversteps the boundaries of his role and tempers the stability and strength of the party. It is highly likely that Mutharika wants to leave in 2024 a party that is strong and ready to rule again.
And it should be added that nowhere is it written that the state vice president should automatically be the presidential candidate of the ruling party in the next elections. There is room for all others in DPP who aspire for the Number 1 plot in 2024.
There is no question that Chimulirenji’s choice is a big surprise to everyone, including those of us that are not members of political parties.
But it is the view of this writer that what is needed at this point is for DPP membership to sober up and see the bigger picture of Mutharika’s decision. They need to see the greater good Mutharika seeks to promote.
The opposition parties are clearly astounded because this is not the script they had in the run-up to Friday. The least they can do now is to exploit the doubt and disbelief that is there among some fww in the DPP to sow discord in the ruling party. The power lies in the hands of the DPP people to repel such infiltration and remain strong to win the elections
Flemming Kayange is Malawian writer based in Durban, South Africa.
Views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Maravi Post