Uncertainty lurks over the candidacy of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera and Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Peter Mutharika at the parties conventions scheduled for 2024 and 2023 respectively.
Analysts have since described the status quo as a recipe for instability in the parties ahead of the 2025 polls.
While the MCP constitution limits Chakwera to two terms of office which he has already served he has not stated publicly his position on the matter.
Mutharika, on the other hand, has signalled that he is consulting on whether to contest, a development that could create more succession challenges.
In a telephone interview, MCP spokesperson the Reverend Maurice Munthali was not clear whether Chakwera would contest at the party convention except pointing out that he is free to do so.
Munthali said the party also decided to shelve the two-term limit provision to allow Chakwera to contest.
He said: “The MCP knows that he [Chakwera] has served two terms but we took cognisant of the fact that as President of the Republic of Malawi, he will only have served one term.
“The supreme law of the land, which is the Constitution, allows Chakwera to contest for the second time. So, we felt we would be doing a disfavour to Malawians who would want Chakwera to continue ruling this country if we said we do not want to field him as our candidate.”
But sources within the party claimed on Tuesday that senior party officials are lobbying for Chakwera to contest against his principles.
But when put to him, Munthali simply said nothing bars the MCP leader from contesting, though not speaking on his behalf.
The MCP constitution stipulates that the party’s president is entitled to only two terms of office and that at its subsequent convention; the party would elect a new president.
Article 35 of MCP’s constitution reads: “Members of the National Executive Committee [NEC] (including the president), except the regional chairpersons, shall be elected by the party convention and shall hold office for five years, for two consecutive terms.”
The MCP last held its convention on May 12 2018 where Chakwera was re-elected for a second term amid infighting and legal battles.
On his part, Mutharika’s spokesperson Shadric Namalomba, who also doubles as DPP spokesperson, said in a written response that the former president maintains his position that he is consulting.
He said Malawians will be told about Mutharika’s decision at the right time.
Said Namalomba: “The position of the president is clear. He is consulting whether to stand or not. Until then, we in the party do not discuss it anymore.
“We are concentrating on building our party ready to save Malawians from the jaws of the oppressor, the Tonse Alliance government.”
But sources from the party’s hierarchy claimed on Thursday that the former president wants to contest at the convention and in subsequent months leave the party to a preferred individual.
At present, individuals that have publicly declared interest to contest for the presidency include the party’s vice-presidents for the South and East, Kondwani Nankhumwa and Bright Msaka, and former Reserve Bank of Malawi governor Dalitso Kabambe.
When asked if he would challenge Mutharika at the convention should he decide to contest, Nankhumwa declined to comment.
He said: “Let us cross the bridge when we reach there. I cannot comment on something that has not been announced yet.”
However, our efforts to seek comment from Msaka and Kabambe proved futile as they were out of reach and did not respond to our messages either.
Last week, the party’s deputy director of research and training Ken Msonda publicly announced that he will contest for the position of vice-president (North) at the convention.
His declaration comes two months after DPP director of operations Joe Nyirongo in November 2022 endorsed the party’s treasurer general Jappie Mhango for the same position.
In the same month, reinstated regional governor (North) the Reverend Christopher Mzomera Ngwira endorsed former Cabinet minister Ephraim Mganda Chiume.
Chiume’s appointment as deputy secretary general sparked rage from eight national governing council (NGC) members who claimed they were not consulted.
The eight include Nankhumwa, Msaka, Goodall Gondwe and Zelia Chakale, vice-presidents for the South, East, North and Centre, and director of youth Daiton Mussa, Mhango and national director of women Cecilia Chazama.
Apart from Chiume, the party also appointed Thomson Kamangira as deputy director for International Affairs. The party’s administrative secretary Francis Mphepo wrote the appointment letters.
The appointments, however, come at a time when the party has abolished regional vice-presidents.
In its revised constitution, new members will not contest for positions while members that dumped the party will not be allowed to return.
Mzuzu University-based political scientist Chrispin Mphande said such developments would lead to instability within political parties especially as they move towards the 2025 general elections.
He said: “For the DPP, they have a challenge because this is a party that has a founder syndrome and if people rally behind a figure it means elements of intraparty democracy do not exist which is very dangerous.
“The DPP should try to build the party because the convention should now be there to put the right people in the right positions and they move forward as a party.”
As regards MCP, Mphande said it is obvious that the Malawi Constitution which allows Chakwera to contest for a second term of office will override the party’s.
He, however, said parties should follow rules and regulations that are put in their respective constitutions.
Politician-cum-commentator Humphrey Mvula said in a telephone interview on Friday that it was clear that the MCP would shelve its constitution since it is the party enjoying the power of incumbency and it does not have any other better candidate.
He said: “In the DPP it is the same situation. The most powerful person who has some proven ability is APM. If APM will choose to contest it is clear that no one else will be permitted by the structure of the party to contest against him.
“The structure will basically kick them out because most of the people in the DPP believe or trust in APM more than anybody else.”
In a separate interview, governance commentator Mavuto Bamusi described the trends in both the DPP and MCP as worrying and that it would have an effect on intra-party democracy as they potentially have negative consequences on overall democratic governance.
He said the trends show leadership deficits in the parties which often culminate into leadership crises at national level.
Bamusi said: “these dynamics also reflect challenges with leadership succession as incumbents appear to cling to power in a show of mistrust and sometimes greed to hold on to the reins of power.”.