As the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) top brass meet this Sunday without a stated agenda amid a revolt and split in the grouping, the question is: Will party president Lazarus Chakwera use the platform to reunite the party or tear it further?
Much of it could depend on how delicately the retired cleric handles two looming figures in the party—incumbent first vice president Richard Msowoya and challenger for the post Mohammed Sidik Mia, who is widely credited for the sweeping MCP victory in the last by-elections and seems to ride on that success to build his own power base in the party.
Mia’s apparent posturing for the running mate slot ahead of the 2019 elections—and what appear to be Msowoya’s efforts to hold onto his post—have split the only party with a realistic chance of unseating President Peter Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
But Chakwera may also have to convince his NEC—or at least the committee’s disgruntled members—that he is committed to the party’s constitution on the back of grumbles over his decisions in the appointment of members into the national executive committee (NEC), the party’s powerful decision-making body.
In a memo dated January 18 2018, which The Nation has seen, addressed to the NEC members, Chakwera has called for a meeting to take place at MCP national headquarters in Lilongwe from 1pm on Sunday amid dissent from his top five lieutenants, including Msowoya.
Msowoya and four other top MCP leaders—secretary general (SG) Gustave Kaliwo, second vice-president McDonald Lombola, deputy SG James Kaunda and replaced treasurer general Tony Kandiero—in a letter to Chakwera about two weeks ago, questioned his commitment to following the party’s constitution and expressed their disagreement with his handling of appointments for leadership positions in the party.
But while the disagreements in the party may have become a prominent issue now because of the high profile protests, the problems in MCP have festered for at least two years, even reaching courts of law.
In an interview last evening, MCP deputy publicity secretary Ezekiel Ching’oma said traditionally MCP NEC meetings do not indicate the agenda in advance, but clearly, the proverbial elephant is surely likely to loom large in the room.
He said: “According to the MCP constitution, some of the agenda items for a NEC meeting are constructed at the management committee meeting. It was that management committee meeting which advised the president to call for a NEC meeting.”
Explaining why it was Chakwera not the secretary general Gustave Kaliwo calling for the meeting, Ching’oma said such communication would have come from the office of administrative secretary which has remained vacant following the death of Potiphar Chidaya last year.
Since the memo from MCP’s top five became public, the fallout has been unprecedented, with MCP parliamentarians backing Chakwera while largely condemning the five.
Then last Saturday, some district chairpersons addressed a news conference where they accused MCP MPs of meddling in the management of the party.
With all these factions pulling in different directions, will Chakwera seize the opportunity and show that he can unite his party as a prelude to his ability to bring the country together if he becomes president?
Sunday could be the day that tells. n