Hon Folks, there’s no denying that campaign for the 2019 presidential race has started, albeit unofficially, and major contenders are the ruling DPP and opposition MCP.
DPP President Peter Mutharika and MCP president Lazarus Chakwera have hit the road running, addressing campaign rallies though neither has described their political meeting as such.
In addition, APM has to his chest two cards—Vice President Saulos Chilima and UDF president Atupele Muluzi. Likewise, Chakwera too has two cards to his chest—Speaker Richard Msowoya and businessman-cum-politician Sidik Mia.
By surrounding himself with the youthful Chilima, 44, and Muluzi, 39, Mutharika, 77, has enhanced his appeal to young voters who will constitute a significant constituency in the 2019 and subsequent elections.
Besides, Chilima is from the Centre and Muluzi from the eastern region, the home base of his father, former president Bakili Muluzi. With the octogenarian but highly experienced economist Goodall Gondwe, 81, as the most senior lieutenant up North, Mutharika’s line-up appears to have a national format.
As for Chakwera, he has Msowoya, 55, manning the North and the new catch Mia, 52, trying to open up the South which proved impenetrable to MCP in 2014. Some analysts also see Mia, a devout Muslim, as Muluzi’s match and Chakwera’s foothold in the predominantly Islamic eastern region.
Given that there are just as many voters in Mutharika’s southern regional stronghold and Chakwera’s central regional stronghold, it’s their common non-strongholds—northern and eastern regions—that will be kingmakers.
That said, success in those areas will depend on their skills in calming the storm already building up in both camps. Having Muluzi and Chilima in the Mutharika camp and having Msowoya and Mia in Chakwera’s fold is like having two bulls in one khola. Brace for rivalry and a bumpy ride.
Unfortunately, both Mutharika and Chakwera are like lady drivers, good at driving slowly and avoiding potholes but hopeless when an emergency strikes.
Chilima was APM’s running-mate in the 2014 elections. Retaining him as running-mate in 2019 is what he would naturally expect after five years of service as Vice President, the second most senior position in government.
Muluzi may not have said it but he recently fired the warning shot, saying UDF’s continued relationship with DPP past this term is not automatic. On another occasion, he referred to UDF as “a big party”.
My take in all this is that Muluzi realises his value and the value of his party to Mutharika’s dream of serving another five-year term. Could he too be expecting to be APM’s running-mate in 2019? Joyce Banda from the same eastern region paired with APM’s brother, Bingu in 2009 and together they trounced an alliance of MCP and UDF. Atupele can argue that he brings more value to DPP than did Joyce Banda in 2009.
Only that should it happen that both Chilima and Atupele are eyeing the running-mate position, then APM has a raw egg breaking in his hand.
Likewise, in Chakwera’s camp, Mia has already indicated he would like to be a running-mate, a position Msowoya had in 2014 and no doubt would like to retain in 2019. Unless a miracle happens, this may blow up in the face of Chakwera, already up to the neck enmeshed in squabbles within MCP.
But Mutharika and Chakwera should also be particularly worried that so far, neither has a coherent, punchy message for the voter. They want to lead us yet, so far, neither seems to have a clue how his government would grow the economy, reduce poverty, improve living standards and unify our divided nation.
Or should we vote for either based on the fact that once they are in government, we’ll eat and eat from their palms? Politics of patronage assumes blind loyalty and probably works when the tribal or regional stronghold determines the winner on first-past-the-post basis.
It will not be as effective to either Mutharika or Chakwera in 2019 should the system be changed to 50+1 which essentially requires support from the non-stronghold regions. That valuable vote, like gold, lies deep in the ground.
To dig it up, you use either show the work of your hands or articulate a vision that resonates with the aspirations of the majority. Mutharika and Chakwera are yet to figure why we should vote for either of them.