Poisoned chalice

Saulos Klaus Chilima has decided to jump ship before he is banished from the ruling party, one way or the other.

For the next few months, Chilima will be Vice-President, but just on paper. If history repeats itself, his State or political events will get no coverage on the State broadcaster where pro-APM propagandists are already queuing up with ridicule and slander that will make the ‘baby’ jibe by Goodall Gondwe look like compliment.

Without being a prophet of doom, again, if history repeats itself, Chilima may be arrested; accused of corruption or some other crime. His presidential convoy will be trimmed. His security detail tampered with while funding to his office gets cut.

He is not the first and last Vice-President to face such treatment. That office, is a poisoned chalice.

By spectacularly dumping the DPP, Chilima has avoided possible humiliation at a convention that was poised to be anything but free and fair; and where the odds were stuck against him. At least former speaker Henry Chimunthu Banda is a living testimony of how futile it is to compete against the DPP landlord.

Peter Mutharika, the rival and incumbent, held all the cards. After all, Mutharika runs the DPP as a personal estate, alongside a few cronies. Chilima while pulling punches during his dignified exit address, left us in no doubt about the cronies’ influence on both the President and the party with jibes when he referred to the ‘owners’ of the DPP.

Once Mutharika started breathing fire and showed his hand—rejecting the calls for his retirement, Chilima stood no chance of defeating someone who virtually appoints every delegate at the convention.

Even with a secret ballot, and after the best form of campaigning, Mutharika would have won, easily and resoundingly.

But conventions are conducted and attended by a tiny fraction of the population. They are not, in their nature, representative and reflective of the views of the majority citizenry.

They are about who has managed to canvas support of most delegates and often the case in these parts of the world; with ability to rig the convention.

So, Chilima’s best calculus was to avoid the humiliation and avoid seeing the momentum gained in the last few days lost through such a vanity exercise. He knows, too, where Mutharika is most vulnerable—national polls.

But with nine months, or so, before voting booths are opened, both Chilima and Mutharika land into very unchartered territory. There are little guarantees. The next election is the most uncertain we have ever had. No party holds clear advantage. And that is where Chilima sniffs opportunity.

Yet, it is still unclear, in absence of any credible opinion polls, whether the euphoria around the possible Chilima candidacy has any merit.

Our elections are decided by the rural majority who traditionally are often silent and ignorant of many progressive ideas Chilima is championing, thanks to traditional monopoly of State media. Blundering governments often knew the villager was not reading critical journalism by the papers.

But such calculations are folly today. Joyce Banda’s PP found out the hard way last time. The rural communities, thanks to the proliferation of independent private radio and television stations, are more critical of bad governance and more likely to punish a party perceived to be blundering.

That is where Mutharika might be in trouble.

The departure of a Vice-President from the ruling party is a vote of no confidence many will take notice. Chilima hopes, many also took notice he sounded and looked presidential, and had the temerity, to host his big announcement at the very seat of power. For symbolism, he aced it.

Now Chilima hopes not only to be a thorn in DPP’s flesh with his eloquence and determination, but as proved by his restrained approach on Tuesday, get the ultimate prize.

His departure will split the DPP. If he stands as presidential candidate, he will eat into some of the DPP votes.

With Lazarus Chakwera breathing on DPP’s neck, that doesn’t bode well for DPP.

While Mutharika has been panicking; delivering angry outbursts that have left many fearing for the President’s very health, Chilima has remained calm and collected.

Mutharika’s biggest problem, though, is not that he has to find another exciting candidate for running mate or getting another brilliant manifesto. His biggest headache is to convince us all, with all what we have seen of his rule and what we will hear during the campaign, that he is still the real deal for Malawi.

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