When you have to say good bye

I wish I could, even wish I had, said good bye. But I was not sure because I hoped, even against hope as I later found out, that the following week I would have the strength to write my column.

I wish I could, but one week later and each week after that it was the same—I neither had the mental strength nor the physical ability to cut the chaff that keeps surrounding the grain that is our political economy, our little business world and social wellbeing.

I regret I didn’t say good bye to the kind readers of this column, with whom my unannounced disappearance raised a lot of questions.

I apologise because I could not, albeit temporarily, say good bye. By God’s grace, we are back   on this space, not to say good bye, but to share, as always, some thoughts, spark important national conversations on the big issues of the week and somehow help shape the direction that this great country must take.

I can see that my being indisposed made me miss so many important issues such as the leadership confusion in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

It looks like some folks in the party want what we might call a primary challenger for President Peter Mutharika who, by virtue of being both a sitting party leader and State President and as per the DPP Constitution and the country’s supreme law, deserves the offer of first refusal when it comes to leading the ruling party as its torch bearer in next year’s election.

What is interesting is that President Mutharika has already indicated that he intends to run for re-election, something that should have been a shoe-in and not the controversial decision it has become as certain sections of the party believe that Mutharika has been such an ineffective leader—either because of his advanced age or sheer incompetence—that they believe he is now toxic and a liability to the party.

This group apparently thinks Vice President Saulos Chilima, who is almost in the right side of 40 and they believe has a healthy image of competence, getting results and popularity among the youths, should takeover.

It is a debate that is tearing the party into little threats that the Malawi Congress Party (MCP)—the party with the best chance of winning next year’s election other than DPP, could exploit.

On his part, Chilima has remained a bemused by-stander, letting the debate pan out without showing interest to challenge his boss. But he has not discouraged the movement either. If you ask me, Chilima is a silent strategist forcing the DPP to be putting off fires they don’t see while he works on the numbers to win the presidency.

My take is that if President Mutharika is going to stand for re-election as party torch bearer next month, I do not see Chilima going head-to-head with him.

He is likely to defer to the President and stand aside. But in the unlikely event that Mutharika chooses to withdraw his bid for the presidency, Chilima could offer himself as the party’s strongest candidate to take on a seemingly resurgent Lazarus Chakwera, the MCP leader. Chilima is in a difficult position though. But much as this could be a toll order, it seems that in 2019 we are in for a revolution not an election.

It is unprecedented that Malawians could be calling for a person to lead them when the norm has always been politicians forcing themselves on people. Is Chilima the chosen one?

It is a tough one.

There are those senior party members who have risked their political careers for the Vice President. He will surely disappoint them if he does not stand against Mutharika. And if he stands against the President and wins, he will chalk the greatest political upset in Malawi’s history and single-handedly rewrite the country’s political rule book while radically reshaping the DPP and Malawian politics.

And he would likely win the next election too.

But would competing at a DPP convention not be a wise decision? As calculative as Chilima is, will he trust a DPP convention that has been hastily announced and without a date? I doubt if Chilima will participate.

Moreover, if he loses to President Mutharika, he is done for. His political career is likely to skid down-hill along with his supporters.

Chilima is in a position—or has been put in a situation—I would never want to be in. But one thing is for sure: he has demonstrated, or his supporters have demonstrated, that this Vice President is not someone to toss around with and that he has enough influence to wreck DPP if he chooses to or help the party win if he is given the respect he has shown he deserves.

But as someone wrote in The Nation’s My Turn column: Ignore Saulos Chilima at your peril. He doesn’t necessarily need the whole DPP to get the presidency. And who knows what he has been doing throughout this silence?

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