President Peter Mutharika caused a stir among the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) top brass ahead of the May 21 Tripartite Elections when he unveiled Everton Herbert Chimulirenji as his runningmate.
Mutharika’s choice of Minister of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development and Parliamentarian for Ntcheu North East, stunned many of his DPP comrades at Comesa Hall in Blantyre when he presented his presidential nomination forms to Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) officials.
The President who arrived before 14:00 in an open vehicle alongside thousands of his followers, brought business in the commercial city to a standstill, but when he confirmed the choice of his running mate, party loyalist who had thronged the hall were heard murmuring in disapproval.
Equally disappointed were thousands of supporters that had swarmed Chichiri Trade Fair Grounds and had been in ecstatic mood before the pair presented their nomination papers.
As Mutharika defended his preferred choice at the podium, some members of his party including senior Cabinet ministers, were literally in their own worlds.
Until few hours before his unveiling, Chimulirenji’s name was nowhere near the ‘gossip list’ of frontrunners that was dominated by, among others, DPP vice-president for the South and Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kondwani Nankhumwa, DPP vice-president for the Eastern Region and Minister of Education, Science and Technology Bright Msaka, former Toyota Malawi managing director Rosemary Mkandawire and former Cabinet minister and Speaker of Parliament Henry Chimunthu Banda.
Political commentator Humphreys Mvula said Mutharika’s choice was a “real shocker” and beyond people’s expectation.
“There was shock; I could read disbelief from people’s minds. After creating a high tempo, the excitement was taken away. I think if it was drama I would describe it as anti-climax because that is not what people expected. Obviously, they were expecting individuals that have achieved within the party or those with stronger association or bonding within the party,” he said.
Commenting on Mutharika’s assertion that a vice-president is always delegated, Mvula said the statement was disappointing because it meant he wanted a subservient person who only waits to be told what to do, when and how.
“We need a strong vice-president who can initiate things and add value to the presidency and not just a praise singer but it appeared the President wants somebody who is meek and cannot critique him or take up the leadership mantle; that is worrisome,” he said.
On his part, University of Malawi (Unima) political scientist Joseph Chunga said the fact that Mutharika has chosen somebody from within the party, gives comfort and hope to some party members that he would help the party going forward.
“But, on the other hand, when you think of the extent to which this particular running mate cannot contribute to the ticket in terms of votes, I am really sceptical, but he would be the kind of running mate you would say may possibly help them defend Ntcheu. Beyond that I don’t see any reason we would expect that he would be pulling votes towards the DPP,” he said.
However, one of the interesting lines in Mutharika’s speech was that Chimulirenji understands the difference between a vice and deputy president. This was clearly in reference to the differences the President has had with estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima who is eyeing the presidency on a UTM Party ticket.
“I think that was the point he was emphasising… So, I think for him he was trying to say they had conflicts because the Vice-President did not understand what his proper role in the government set up was, and by extension, he was putting across the message that Chimulirenji was someone who would not usurp the power of the President,” explained Chunga.
Speaking after submitting his papers, Mutharika said he had settled for Chimulirenji because of his integrity, educational qualifications, outstanding performance and a team player who would effectively help him run government for the next five years.
“He understands the difference between a vice-president and deputy president and that a vice-president is always delegated and the vice-president will never be a co-president,” said Mutharika.
The President also said the May 21 election will be a watershed in the history of the country as Malawians will either choose between taking the country forward or backwards, between building or destroying everything the DPP had begun.
He said: “But I have faith in the people of this country. When we found this country broken, bruised and economically wounded, we chose to fix and heal our economy.
“When we found this country in a crisis, we chose to regain our national pride and economic confidence to drive forward our country. Now we are set to take Malawi to new heights. We have set the stage for making Malawi a prosperous nation.”
Mutharika said he looked forward to five more years of improving the economy, businesses, quality of life, creating a skilled Malawi, opening new companies, creating more jobs for the youth, industrialising Malawi and empowering farmers, among others.
“We look forward to five more years of delivering more roads, connecting us to better hospitals, better markets and connecting us with our people, delivering more decent homes for vulnerable children, men and women,” he said in his nine-minute speech titled ‘We have set the stage for making Malawi a prosperous nation’.
Meanwhile, only 10 out of 24 presidential aspirants that collected nomination forms fulfilled the requirements to be accepted as presidential candidates.
According to MEC chairperson Jane Ansah, nine of the 10 are representing their respective political parties or political alliances while one is an independent candidate.
Initially, 15 political parties and nine independent candidates collected nomination forms but 11 withdrew their candidature after endorsing other aspirants while three independents failed to meet the requirements.
Earlier on Fri