The more things change

On July 18 2017, President Peter Mutharika celebrated his 77th birthday with a whistlestop tour that ended with a tumultuous welcome at Biwi Triangle in the city of Lilongwe.

There to welcome him was the surprise of surprises, his Vice-President Saulos Chilima. The surprises did not end there as one after another speaker gave the Vice-President unprecedented mention and respect, something that had not been seen since 2016 when he was accused of trying to usurp powers while the President was bedridden in the United States (US).

For close to two years, Chilima was not a favorite of the inner circle of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Malawians could only guess that his lofty ambitions threatened the existence of those who felt entitled to take over from APM. As the nation came to know a short while later, the queue aiming to replace APM in 2019 was very long.

Clad in khaki attire with a beret, Chilima led the gathered crowd to a birthday song for a beloved leader and was given the honour of asking the President to address the gathering.

At that rally, APM made an uncharacteristic move to openly praise his vice, calling him his son and proclaiming that the two had an excellent working relationship. He went as far as admiring SKC’s athleticism!

This shocked Malawians who had ears to hear and eyes to see, but the whole incident was put down to politics.

One year later, as APM celebrated his 78th birthday, the closeness that was witnessed that afternoon at Biwi Triangle is nowhere to be seen. SKC has once again become a pariah on the State broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).

As if that was not enough, APM has made sure that any avenue that would have increased his visibility is removed from him, including his Cabinet portfolios in the Department of Disaster Management Affairs and Public Events.

Recently, the Office of the President and Cabinet, presumably following instructions from State House, found it fit not to inform the Vice-President that the President was leaving the country and his presence at the airport was not required.

At this stage, what worse things can the government machinery do? Accuse him of treason? Take away his security detail? Fire him from the party? All this has happened to past vice-presidents and they have lived to tell the tale.

Those who hoped that SKC expressing his right to participate in politics would be viewed with admiration and respected by the DPP echelons must be sorely disappointed. They must have surely forgotten what former President Bakili Muluzi famously said many years ago: Malawians forget easily.

In 2004, after serving the government in the capacity of Vice-President for two consecutive terms, Justin Malewezi was passed over as the next obvious presidential candidate for the United Democratic Front.

Malewezi honourably resigned and opted to contest as an independent presidential candidate, a move that earned him vitriol and ridicule about his illness on the political podiums of the UDF.

There has been nothing to write home about when it comes to vice-presidents who came after Malewezi, it is even easy to forget that Cassim Chilumpha and Khumbo Kachali once held these positions and any political moves they have made after have made zero impact.

As a vice-president, Joyce Banda made a bold move to form the People’s Party and thanks to fate and an inept health system coupled with karma, she became president.

History shows that Malawi does not like an ambitious vice-president. No ruling party likes a vice-president to show he has his own mind and is capable of exercising his rights to political association.

To describe SKC’s political move as a betrayal to APM and the DPP is saying this country has not moved since June 14 1993. Malawi might as well be a one party State.

To expect SKC to resign from a post to which he was constitutionally elected just because his political ambitions bother someone in the DPP is frankly speaking, ludicrous.

Chilima does not seem like a coward and leaving office would make him out to be one. The nation should expect the Vice-President to be there on May 23 to fulfill Section 83 (1) of the Constitution which dictates that he shall “continue in office until his or her successor has been sworn in.”

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