Debate on whether President Peter Mutharika should leave the leadership in the 2019 Tripartite Elections to Vice-President Saulos Chilima took an ugly twist yesterday with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leaders in the North threatening to bar anti-Mutharika delegates to the convention.
DPP regional governor (North) Kenneth Sanga said in an interview yesterday and at a rally at Mlowe in Rumphi on Sunday that he will critically screen delegates from the region to block ‘backstabbers’ from attending the convention whose dates are yet to be announced.
During the meeting, graced by DPP national campaign director and Minister of Transport and Public
Infrastructure Jappie Mhango, Sanga said the convention will endorse Mutharika and not to elect another candidate.
He asked DPP officials present to declare their allegiance to Mutharika or face the chop.
Said Sanga: “When going to the convention, all 22 district governors, 33 governors from constituencies, chair ladies, directors of youth [from the North], anyone who will be against Peter will not go to the convention.
“Such people will not go because I will be responsible for making arrangements for that trip because I don’t want to go with a knife that will end up stabbing me. I repeat, anyone who is against Mutharika will not go to the convention.”
The Northern Region contributes at least 200 delegates to the convention.
Sanga’s sentiments, which have shocked political analysts, come in the wake of an opinion by former first lady Callista Mutharika two weeks ago that Mutharika, currently 79 years old, would be too old to carry on as he would be 84 at time of leaving office in 2024 if re-elected next year.
She argued that it is normal that thinking capacity deteriorate as one gets older; hence, her recommendation that Chilima, 45, be the torchbearer for DPP in the elections.
Callista’s sentiments have stirred debate from several quarters, including DPP national governing committee (NGC), individual NGC members and political commentators.
Yesterday, DPP deputy regional governor (North) Afiki Mbewe told Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) that 22 district governors from the Northern Region agreed to remove him from his post for supporting Chilima as the party’s prospective candidate.
He said he consulted his colleagues from Chitipa, Karonga, Rumphi, Mzimba and Likoma to publicly declare his support for Chilima. He said that several other governors share his position, but were scared to come in the open.
But the governors, speaking at a press briefing in Mzuzu yesterday, said anyone regardless of position in the party will have his or her “head cut off” for supporting anyone else other than Mutharika.
One of them, Kondwani Harawa (Rumphi West), said no governor has the mandate to speak on behalf of all of them because “we do not have a spokesperson”.
Reacting to the developments, governance and human rights activist Timothy Mtambo said Sanga’s position was not only unfortunate but also shows that DPP is not democratic.
Mtambo, the executive director for Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), wondered why DPP has the word ‘democratic’ in its name when the party acts the opposite way.
He said: “Any reasonable party should give an opportunity to its people to contest at any level of positions. They shouldn’t start threatening people that if they will not support Mutharika then they will not be taken to the convention.
“They are now showing us the real picture that all the convention we have been seeing were not done on democratic principles. This brings into question the credentials of the party to the bone and the worries that people have been talking about this party, especially the manner in which DPP has been behaving on different issues.”
Mtambo described as an insult to the youth remarks by Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe that ‘babies’, in an apparent reference to suggestions that Chilima was youthful and energetic, should not be given the presidency.
In a separate interview, policy and governance commentator Rafiq Hajat said those barring critics from attending the convention have not read their party constitution.
He said those who feel victimised can challenge the convention outcomes in court to invalidate its resolutions.
In an interview, Chancellor College-based political analyst, Ernest Thindwa, argued that those endorsing Mutharika and barring delegates from electing their leaders freely should be ashamed of themselves.
He observed that there was a struggle within the DPP between democratic and dictatorial forces, adding the forces to maintain the status quo are much stronger than those that want change.
Meanwhile, Sanga has said his office will write the DPP NGC for a decision on calls to fire Mbewe.