Delegates to the first-ever Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) convention Thursday night gave Peter Mutharika the mandate to lead the party in next year’s presidential elections with a landslide vote, sweeping aside his challenger, Henry Chimunthu Banda.
Mutharika won with 1 266 votes against Chimunthu Banda’s 73. There were nine null and void votes.
Zomba Central Member of Parliament (MP) Yunus Mussa won the vice-president post (Eastern Region) with 514 votes. He overcame competition from Lonnie Chijere Chirwa (388 votes), Ali Allan (179), Ernest Malenga (186) and Steven Kamwendo (80 votes).
Former DPP vice-president Jean Kalilani won the race for secretary general with 600 votes after beating Ted Kalebe (255 votes), Bintony Kutsaira (345 votes) and Allan Chiyembekeza (136 votes).
In the race for treasurer general’s post, Henry Mussa carried the day with 908 votes, beating his challengers, former treasurer general George Chaponda (82 votes) and Southern Region governor Noel Masangwi (336 votes).
Nicholas Dausi (1 106 votes) floored his challenger Francis Kasaila (206 votes) for the post of publicity secretary whereas that of national organising secretary was won by Chimwemwe Chipungu with 641 votes against 354 votes for veteran Francis Mphepo and 313 for Frank Viyazyi.
The Electoral Commission (EC), which administered the elections, announced official results at midnight.
Test of democracy in the party
Earlier, deceased president Bingu wa Mutharika’s legacy loomed large at the convention venue in Blantyre as his DPP elected its leaders.
Dausi, who chaired the convention organising committee, earlier said 80 people were contesting for positions in the national governing council (NGC) at the convention largely seen as a test of democracy in the party which has survived eight years of having its executive leaders appointed by the late Bingu.
As early as 9am, the convention grounds were blue with party cars bearing campaign posters of Peter . Besides, thousands who endured the sunny day to take part in the polls were clad in blue wear, including T-shirts with Bingu’s portraits and proclaiming the beholders’ loyalty with inscriptions reading ‘100% Bingu’ or ‘100% DPP’.
The spectacle was only rivalled by white and sky-blue attire rallying delegates to vote for Mutharika, branded ‘APM’ or ‘Tate Professor’ by his fanatics.
Surprisingly, there were no promotional relics for Chimunthu Banda—a scene which raised eyebrows among his supporters, with some accusing the organisers of siding with Peter.
First to arrive was Chimunthu Banda at around 10.45am, almost an hour after an anxious Dausi told the press that he was about to disqualify the candidate for failing to arrive around 8.30am as agreed.
Test for popularity
In what looked like an early test for his popularity, Chimunthu Banda received a lukewarm ovation from the waiting crowd before he entered the hall.
He said: “Despite intimidation and other setbacks, I am ready to contest for the party presidency because I want to see democracy work both inside and outside the party.”
Peter, who arrived 20 minutes later in a 10-vehicle motorcade, was whisked away from the press as he was mobbed by scores of ululating supporters raising their index fingers in the air and shoving each other to get a glimpse of his face.
Despite being muted by the jubilant multitude, Peter’s posters summed up his ideals as chitetezo ndi chikondi (security and love)—hinting at a departure from Bingu’s slogan: Chitukuko, chitetezo and chilungamo (development, security and justice).
Unlike Chimunthu Banda, Peter, who has been acting party president since Bingu’s death on April 5 last year, addressed the delegates to open the function which he described as a “right of passage, a passage of growth, an occasion of consolidating the spirit of the party”.
Further eroding Chimunthu Banda’s chances, Blue Revolution, a four-page publication distributed to all delegates at the start of the convention, blamed the Speaker for “indecisiveness”, alleging that he was nowhere near the party at the time people were deserting it.
“He hid in the sanctuary of the neutrality of the Speaker Office yet his predecessors, honourables Louis Chimango, Sam Mpasu and the late Rodwell Munyenyembe used to identify themselves with their parties outside Parliament…,” reads the publication whose origin remains anonymous.
Critics think Mutharika is a shadow of Bingu whose dictatorial ending compelled donors to freeze aid and left Malawians rioting against rising cost of living, shortage of fuel and forex as well as disappearing democratic principles.
Yet his supporters say he is best placed not only to restore years of food security his brother championed but also bring sanity in the economy at a time PP government’s devaluation of the kwacha and other IMF-prescribed free market policy have forced the cost of living to rise.