The Vice President is an assistant, a delegate and a counsellor to the President. Most importantly, the Vice President succeeds the President and completes the President’s term in office if the President dies or becomes incapacitated. The most important quality to look for in a Vice President, therefore, is the answer to this question: can he or she be President?
The choice of veep candidate says a lot about the person making the choice. It is the first major executive decision the main candidate makes. The question today is: among the veep candidates announced by the four major parties in Malawi for the May elections, which can credibly become President without sending the stock markets crashing down and the defence forces going on a high state of alert?
The answer to this question is an unequivocal endorsement of Dr. Godfrey Chapola, veep candidate with Austin Atupele Muluzi, President of the United Democratic Front (UDF) party. Chapola’s maturity and his experience with Malawi’s most important industries, agriculture and tobacco, are qualities that enhance the presidency and place him well to succeed the President seamlessly if the need arose.
The field of candidates
This is correctly recognized as the election in which the youth vote will play an important role.
With the notable exception of the MCP, the remaining parties – the DPP and the PP — have chosen their running mates with the intention of countering Muluzi’s youth. They have offered their own youthful veep candidates as alternatives.
The difference, however, is that Muluzi is the presidential candidate whereas Saulos Chilima (DPP) and Sosten Gwengwe (PP) are veep candidates. If the youth want one of their own to become President this year, why would they elect the tickets featuring Chilima or Gwengwe who are not presidential candidates?
The time to have a youthful President is this May, not afterwards. Malawians are yearning for new, youthful and vigorous leadership to urgently tackle our country’s profound problems and bring about change for the benefit of all. That change is needed now, not in some distant future when, and if, an incumbent President dies. What if a President does not die in office?
Saulos Chilima Has No Chance in DPP
At 41, Saulos Chilima is indeed youthful. Moreover, his experience as Chief Executive Officer of telecommunications giant Airtel would stand him in good stead with voters as a person owning appropriate experience in an economic portfolio. However, he is not the candidate. He is only the running mate. If the DPP wins, we will either have to wait for Arthur-Peter Mutharika to die in office or up to a maximum ten years, when Chilima will be 51, before we see a President Chilima. Do the Cashgate-exhausted youth of Malawi have the patience to wait that long?
Even that succession is not guaranteed. The DPP has a history of chewing up and spitting out its state veeps while in office. For reference, look under Cassim Chilumpha and Joyce Banda. In both cases the man who did the damage was none other than President Bingu wa Mutharika, brother to the current DPP presidential candidate, Arthur-Peter. Bingu committed atrocities against Chilumpha and Banda with the acquiescence, and for the benefit, of Arthur-Peter! So Chilima is youthful, yes. But this history bodes ill for the prospects of a future Chilima state presidency even if the current DPP ticket were to win in May. The odds are against it.
A more attractive DPP ticket would have Saulos Chilima at the head of the ticket. As it is, and if DPP political history is anything to go by, Saulos Chilima is in the most precarious position as Number Two of any of the four major parties’ veep candidates.
Sosten Gwengwe’s Political Infidelity
At 37, Sosten Gwengwe also qualifies to be called a ‘youthful’ candidate. But his political background as a legislator is marred by his defections, first from the MCP to the DPP and now from the DPP to the PP. Malawian electors do not want just any youthful person to be their President or Vice President. For discerning electors steadfastness to principle, and some political fidelity in the candidate, are pre-requisites.
Political prostitution, a practice in which legislators switch parties to always be with the ruling party and thus get appointments to cabinet and/or other favours, is partly to blame for the abuses that ruling parties have visited upon the population of Malawi, including the youth, for years. With this practice, the legislature ceases to act as a check on the executive and becomes, instead, its accomplice. People who switch parties for this reason are corrupt, and certainly are not positive leadership material. They threaten Malawi’s political and economic future and should neither be presidents nor veeps if we have the best political and economic interests of Malawi at heart.
Richard Msowoya a ‘safe’ Choice
The middle aged Msowoya, 52, was first elected to Parliament in 2004 as an independent MP from Karonga. He later joined Bingu’s newly formed DPP after Bingu ditched the UDF. Msowoya then became minister but later resigned and joined MCP, allegedly after being promised a running-mate position on an MCP ticket with Hon. JZU Tembo in the 2009 election. Sources say he was later ignored for that post by Tembo who chose BJ Mpinganjira, instead. Msowoya evidently remained in MCP although he later lost his parliamentary seat. He sought and won the veep position unopposed at the party’s convention last year.
In choosing Msowoya as his running mate, Rev. Chakwera has demonstrated an aversion to political risk. He has chosen from inside, rather than from outside, the proverbial box. Political timidity has its advantages and its disadvantages. The state of shambles that Malawi is in today requires a leadership that is not afraid to take some political risks and strike out with political novices to reform the system. The old faces and recycled politicians have already shown us what they are capable of: chaos, political prostitution and Cashgate. We need new faces that will bring in a new thinking and approach – faces that will work to truly repair and improve battered Malawi.
Chapola the best choice
Austin Atupele Muluzi has won the contest regarding the best choice of a running mate. This is an election in which Malawians are looking for transformational leadership which by-passes and transcends the old squabbles about regions of origin and the ‘change goal’ politics of opportunists. The professionally accomplished Chapola has no history of dirty political involvements, let alone political prostitution. In fact he is completely new to the political game. That is what Malawi needs: a new beginning with new, capable faces. Not another start with the same old faces who only know the politics of opportunism, regionalism and Cashgate.
This round has gone to Muluzi, hands down.
• The author, Ambuje che Tom Likambale, is from Balaka Township, Malawi