Malewezi sparks running mate debate

Joyce Banda and Bingu wa Mutharika during the 2009 campaign trail
Joyce Banda and Bingu wa Mutharika during the 2009 campaign trail

Former vice-president Justin Malawezi says presidential candidates should pick running mates that can replace the president’s shortfalls with strengths when governing the country.

In an exclusive interview yesterday, Malewezi also suggested that it would be important if running mates were known at least by December this year, an idea that leading political parties have scoffed at and which has received mixed views from a constitutional law expert and political observer.

He said: “It is important for running mates to be known in good time for the package to be sold together.”

Malewezi, who became Malawi’s first vice-president in 1994 before resigning in 2003 after falling out of grace with then president Bakili Muluzi over succession issues, was asked to comment on qualities Malawians should look for in a vice-president in the face of realities that a deputy can eventually become State president as was the case with current Head of State Joyce Banda.

But political parties scoffed at Malewezi’s advice, especially on the timing of the running mate pick—saying they have their own considerations on the choice.

Malewezi, who prior to joining politics served as secretary to the president and Cabinet, said presidential candidates should look at people with qualities they themselves do not have.

He said: “For example, when Dr. [Bakili] Muluzi picked me, I am sure being a businessperson, he [Muluzi] wanted somebody with knowledge of the public service.”

Former vice-president Justin Malawezi
Former vice-president Justin Malawezi

While Malewezi added that politically, it is also necessary to consider inclusiveness by ensuring regional balance among others, he also said this should not be the overriding factor.

But in a separate interview, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) national secretary Chris Chisoni said Malawi should stop thinking along regional lines.

Said Chisoni: “He/she [running mate] should not be one that is identified based on tribal, regional  or religious identity as this only serves populist views and intends to achieve geographical and demographic balance that oftentimes, in our history, is not in favour of national development.”

On his part, University of Malawi’s (Unima) Chancellor College law professor Edge Kanyongolo said: “Presidential candidates should be responsible enough to the nation by choosing running mates that are capable of assuming leadership in the shortest time possible.

“It should also be the responsibility of voters to begin scrutinising not only the presidential candidates but the running mates also. Voters should be able to ask themselves, if this president dies, will this vice-president be capable of ruling?”

In separate interviews, the country’s four major parties—Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), People’s Party (PP) and United Democratic Front (UDF)—all indicated that they have their own selection criteria and that they would not unveil their running mates until January 2014 or beyond.

Said DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi: “We will look for a person of good standing in society, with impeccable academic and professional credentials.

“This will be a person with deep cultural and religious standing, of high integrity and honesty; somebody who will look at other people as humans.” The DPP’s torchbearer in the 2014 Tripartite Elections is Professor Peter Mutharika.

UDF publicity secretary Ken Ndanga said according to the party’s presidential candidate Atupele Muluzi, their running mate will be a person who understands the party’s agenda.

“There may also be the balancing act. He is youthful, so he may have to choose a running mate who is older than him,” said Ndanga, but could not give any time frame.

MCP, the latest to elect a presidential candidate, the Reverend Lazarus Chakwera, said it is too early to start talking of running mate.

Said MCP secretary general Chris Daza: “We haven’t met as national executive [NEC] and we are yet to fill some positions in our [politiburo]. I think the president currently has a wide choice and several other considerations to look at.”

Hophmally Makande of PP said the party, whose candidate will be incumbent President Banda, already has a yardstick and qualities of a running mate, “but NEC and the party leader have not yet mandated me to speak on such matters.”

But, according to Chisoni, “the presidential candidate and the running mate must work together from the start.”

Malewezi also suggested a constitutional amendment to Section 83(4) that allows a vice-president to take up leadership if a president is incapacitated for the remainder of the term, to include the need for another election after 60 days.

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