Never change a winning game; always change a losing one—Bill Tilden.
President Peter Mutharika’s recent flexing of muscles is his way of laying the building blocks for the campaign for the upcoming fresh presidential elections. But it is a kneejerk reaction to the Constitutional Court’s (ConCourt) ruling which must have hit him below the belt.
First and foremost, Mutharika thinks there are certain things the State and party machinery did not execute well and which worked against him and the DPP. One such thing is how the anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations were handled. Mutharika’s body language suggests that he thinks organisers and demonstrators were given too much freedom to go about their activities. He seems to be attributing this to the role the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) played during the protests. Apart from providing security to demonstrators and the general public, MDF availed the demonstrators all the freedom and space they needed. And they got what they asked for. The demonstrations which were being held during the hearing of the elections nullification case, kept the fire burning for the petitioners’ case and cause and oiled the protests.
Former Army commander, General Vincent Nundwe’s statement that holding peaceful demonstrations was an inalienable right for citizens and which MDF would respect and protect at all costs, was the last stroke that broke the camel’s back. Mutharika thinks the State and party machinery goofed on this. It should have been more vigilante by either neutralizing or outdoing the demonstrators’ agitation. His correction of this error is removal of the incorrigible General Nundwe and replacement with someone he thinks he can manipulate.
Going forward, I can predict a change of policy in the management of public security during demonstrations. Malawi Police Service (MPS) will take full charge of and deal ruthlessly with the organisers while MDF will be told to go back to the barracks. Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) please take note. Brace for tougher times in tour quest to remove Ansah.
In the same vein, Mutharika thinks that he needs to overhaul the whole State and party machinery to win the war ahead. The war has two battles—the appeal case on the presidential elections and the campaign for the elections to be held within 150 days after February 3 2020.
For the appeal case, Mutharika will ride on the back of MEC. Have you ever wondered why Mutharika is not talking about hiring a Senior Counsel? Victory for MEC means victory for Mutharika. You and I will foot the bill. The directive to MEC is to break the bank. Hence the South African lawyers that the MEC is hiring at a dizzying K600 million.
The political reengineering process will not be over until the whole system is reformed. The Cabinet has just been dissolved. The new one will bring on board men and women of high political net worth to the electoral campaign. Liabilities will be dropped. At party level, the hiring and recruitment has already commenced. Firebrand Mzomera Ngwira has been roped in to replace Kenneth Sanga. The aim is to rebrand DPP in the North after DPP trailed both UTM Party’s Saulos Chilima and Malawi Congress Party’s (MCP) Lazarus Chakwera in the May 21 annulled elections. A stitch in time saves nine.
Similarly, Bintony Kutsaira failed to deliver votes from the Centre. But he can take comfort in the fact that as a DPP legislator, Mutharika is likely to retain him in his campaign Cabinet even after replacing him with Davie Kambalame as regional governor. The idea is to give both people resources for a blistering campaign. Mutharika is also likely to make more reforms in the party hierarchy to align it to the rigours of the campaign.
In the new Cabinet, Mutharika is also likely to rope in party cadets he thinks have the wherewithal to deliver votes from the politically hard-to-encroach areas such as the Centre and North. And most certainly to cement the deal with the DPP alliance partner United Democratic Front (UDF) Mutharika. In this he will bring into the Cabinet Atupele Muluzi and one or two UDF colleagues. But Mutharika will be coy to invest much in Atupele who in the May 21 elections only got 235 000 mostly from the Eastern Region where Mutharika polled a whopping 600 000 votes in the annulled polls in what is traditionally a UDF stronghold.
Mutharika’s refusal to assent to the electoral reform bills and his rejection to fire MEC commissioners as per the Public Appointments Committee recommendation is part of the grand scheme. You don’t change a winning team. This is the one single reason he will never fire the current MEC commissioners. To this effect, one would argue that MEC—and not voters—is Mutharika’s biggest strength and opportunity going into the fresh elections.
Mutharika also sees no reason for changing the current electoral laws. He will also use as much delaying tactics as he can because he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing so. But whatever he does, it is incumbent upon him as head of the Executive arm of the Government to ensure elections are held within 150 days after the February 3, 2020 in line with the Concourt ruling unless the Supreme Court rules otherwise.