What is the endgame for UDF?

The relationship between the United Democratic Front (UDF) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) stopped making sense the moment the UDF presidential candidate Atupele Muluzi presented nomination papers at Comesa Hall last month.

The presentation of the nomination papers itself notwithstanding; his choice of a runningmate in Karonga Central Member of Parliament Frank Mwenifumbo was baffling considering that he was straight out of reconciliation with his Alliance for Democracy (Aford) nemesis, Enock Chihana.

The circumstances surrounding the partnership between UDF and DPP have never been made clear, save for signs that this was a long-term alliance in which the DPP would benefit from support in Parliament.

On the part of UDF, the only visible benefit of that partnership was Muluzi becoming a cabinet minister, flitting between several posts before he finally found his niche in the Ministry of Health—and perhaps the K1.7 billion case against the elder Muluzi, Bakili, not progressing these five years.

The same cannot be said of the MPs who accompanied him to the DPP government risking their seats for supporting the government agenda without any rewards.

After the position of runningmate to President Peter Mutharika passed Atupele by, it was expected, in the DPP and UDF ranks, that this would signal the end of the one sided relationship between the two parties but that has not been the case.

Weeks later, Atupele continues to enjoy his cushy ministerial position while his MPs scramble for retention in their constituency campaigning on a UDF ticket.

Following the unexpected electoral alliance between Malawi Congress Party and People’s Party, reports were rife of a similar occurrence between UDF and DPP, at least to save the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) the expense of printing 6.8 million ballot papers with a candidate who had no intention of contesting.

In the midst of all this, Atupele is launching the party’s manifesto in a fortnight, a blueprint which will challenge that of the governing party that he has served the past four years.

Atupele continues to serve as a Cabinet minister and he has used that portfolio to garner support for the DPP administration and Mutharika, in a way.

While it can be argued that there is no law that stops a President from working with a member of the opposition, this situation is unique in that the opposition politician is challenging the incumbent president of the governing party that he is serving.

It could also be argued that the situation with Vice-President Saulos Chilima is similar. He is contesting for UTM as a presidential candidate and has not resigned as a Vice-President.

Atupele and Chilima differ in that one of them was not given a choice to leave the government, he was pushed out.

DPP is clearly playing double standards. Here is a Cabinet minister, who is openly challenging the President from within the ranks and no action is taken against him, while another did not openly challenge him but was unceremoniously fired from Cabinet immediately after he expressed interest to contest, not on the DPP ticket.

As days go by, the campaign period is launched and a ballot printer starts work next week, it is becoming clear that Atupele will be on the ballot on May 21.

The younger Muluzi is a likable man, charismatic but not to the levels of his father. While these characteristics are enough to make him a credible presidential candidate, he is not a winner of this particular presidential election.

In 2014, Atupele and his DPP amassed 717 224 votes out of 5.2 million votes cast. But after putting the UDF on standby for close to five years, it is unclear what he hopes to achieve by claiming the DPP is implementing the UDF manifesto while he continues to serve another party.

It is only until he answers one question that the few UDF supporters still loyal will be freed: Does he represent UDF or DPP?

Sadly, in the end, the UDF supporters will once again be the losers of such indecisiveness. n

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