Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on Sunday removed its estranged vice-president (South) Kondwani Nankhumwa as Leader of Opposition in Parliament and replaced him with Mulanje South West legislator George Thapatula Chaponda.
The party spokesperson Shadric Namalomba confirmed in an interview on Sunday that the meeting they had at the residence of DPP leader and former president Peter Mutharika in Mangochi, also elected Nkhata Bay Central legislator Symon Vuwa Kaunda as chief whip with Zomba Chingale member of Parliament (MP) Lonnie Chijere Phiri as his deputy and Mulanje Bale MP Victor Musowa as leader of backbenchers.
He said: “This was a meeting of the president with MPs and I wouldn’t know why others didn’t attend. We had MPs who formed a majority, met the president, discussed and made a resolution to replace the Leader of Opposition in Parliament. Honourable Nankhumwa is no longer Leader of Opposition.”
Namalomba, who is also Mangochi South West MP said the meeting also looked at challenges the party is facing, the Functional Review Report and how best to provide checks and balances in Parliament.
He said: “We shared the culture of DPP and what is expected of members of Parliament. On this item, we were looking at the dynamics of the party, what has happened, where we are going, the challenges that the party is facing.
“The public has always been complaining that we have a weaker opposition in Parliament and because of that, the members, and the whole party, proposed that we must change the Leader of Opposition and as I speak, we have a new leader in the name of Dr George Chaponda.”
In a separate interview, Chaponda, a former Leader of the House when DPP was in power and coincidentally was replaced by Nankhumwa, said he was pleased with his new role.
He promised to provide leadership that will ensure government addresses challenges facing Malawians.
Chaponda said: “The Leader of Opposition has to put government on its toes to respond to the issues, bring about constructive criticism, and especially at this particular time. You need a strong Leader of Opposition to respond to the suffering of Malawians.
“The party leadership is headed by the president and the MPs who attended were party members. It was the wish of the party to elect me. Nobody is bigger than the party.”
On the other hand, Nankhumwa said he was not invited to the meeting. He said he was yet to decide on his next course of action.
But Mulanje West MP Yusuf Nthenda, one of the legislators not invited to the meeting, described the events in Mangochi as unfortunate and vowed not to recognise Chaponda in his new role.
The legislator, who is a lawyer, said: “That meeting was supposed to be attended by all MPs and I hear that Chaponda has been elected by 24 MPs only. It gives me worry because there are about 55 to 60 duly elected DPP MPs, including myself, but I was not invited.
This was a camp meeting, not a party meeting.”
This is the second time for the party to move to replace Nankhumwa as Leader of Opposition in Parliament after a similar attempt in October 2020 when Mutharika appointed former Nsanje Central legislator Francis Kasaila. However, his nomination was rejected by the party’s MPs.
Reacting to the development, University of Malawi political scientist Joseph Chunga said the move was a continuation of the fight in the DPP bordering on succession which is clocking two years now.
He said: “If the other MPs were not invited, that will be a serious anomaly and we know these related issues have been in court and we may be in for another round of court battles. To me, this is another dynamic of the fight on the succession plan.
“As for 2025, the DPP still has time because two years is a long time, especially when you have the Tonse Alliance facing own challenges. If Tonse had no issues, you would say this is suicide for the DPP ahead of 2025.”
Before the meeting, Nankhumwa’s lawyer Cassius Chidothe wrote Mutharika on Saturday, urging the professor of international law against proceeding with the meeting as was the case with a previous meeting on June 14.
The sixth meeting of the National Assembly in the 49th Session of Parliament is expected to be held from July 18 to August 12, according to Clerk of Parliament Fiona Kalemba.
Cracks in the former governing DPP came to light after embattled secretary general Grezelder Jeffrey in August 2020 told The Nation that Mutharika, who lost the June 23 2020 presidential election to President Lazarus Chakwera, had done his part and that the party needed a new person to lead it into the future. Peter Mutharika took over leadership of DPP after the death of his brother, Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2012.