2019 first presidential debate: Saulos Chilima, Atupele Muluzi in league of men


By Stephen Dakalira:

For a long time, those in the political circles, particularly the ones regarded heavyweights, have had a tendency to look down on those who are out on a discovery path in the field, despising them as babies who are just learning to crawl out of their mother’s grips.

Flashback to the days when former president Bakili Muluzi took a bow from active politics and a certain young man, Atupele Austin Muluzi, was unleashed into the United Democratic Front (UDF) foray, much to the disdain of old guards in the party who argued that Atcheya (as the senior Muluzi is fondly referred to) was trying to turn UDF into a personal estate and some of them left to join other parties or form their own.


Malawi’s Vice-President Saulos Klaus Chilima, who had been handpicked by Peter Mutharika from the private sector to partner him on a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ticket, which won the 2014 presidential poll, found the going tough within the governing party as he was deemed a political novice.

And last year, Chilima felt ostracised within DPP and since they say ‘if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’, it was time for him to embark on a journey of his own, far away from the blue colour which culminated into the establishing of UTM.

Like the young Muluzi before him, Chilima also had to live with the moniker of ‘baby’ since the heavyweights in DPP like, Goodall Gondwe, felt the country’s second-in-command was too young to gun for the highest office in the land, let alone successfully steer a political party.


Signs of coming of age

Hate them or loathe them, but the two (the young Muluzi and Chilima) have curved themselves an impressive resume in as far as steering the affairs of government ministries and government departments is concerned.

The fact that one is a trained lawyer and the other has a rich business background have not hindered them from diving in head first whenever assigned to a particular minis try or department (as members of the cabinet).

From Ministry of Health to Department of Disaster Management Affairs; to Office of the President and Cabinet, the two have seen it all. In fact, they have, on a number of occasions, managed to stand head above shoulders with those that have branded them ‘babies’.

In a recent cabinet assessment by The Sunday Times, Muluzi was among those recognised as star performers and Chilima used to shine in the same category until he found himself at odd with his boss. It is no surprise that his rating has plummeted to 40 percent since he is not being actively involved in government undertakings, but make no mistake, Chilima is not only smart, but also a hard worker. Those who have rubbed shoulders with him at Capital Hill can attest to this.

Performance in presidential debate – hogging the limelight

After sailing through elections during their party conventions as presidential torch-bearers of their respective political parties in the forthcoming tripartite elections scheduled for May 21, Muluzi and Chilima have been on a campaign trail, with Chilima the busiest as he had the advantage of kick-starting his road trips early, courtesy of the elections civic education programme.

Chilima recently unveiled the UTM manifesto in Dowa, signalling intent by his entity to give Malawians a new lease of life through tax reforms, balanced diet and job creation, among others.

The only other political parties to have unveiled their manifesto to Malawians are Umodzi Par ty and Malawi Congress Party, whose leader Lazarus Chakwera has been preaching a message of servant leadership.

On the other hand, Muluzi and his UDF are yet to present to the citizenry their manifesto. Until recently, a lot of people were even sceptical about the young Muluzi and his UDF contesting the 2019 elections.


It was, therefore, quite interesting to note during the first presidential debate ahead of the May 21 poll that, at every opportunity, Muluzi had a go at Chilima, largely for what is contained in the UTM manifesto which he claimed was not practical.

He repeatedly said ‘some’ politicians are running for the presidency out of frustration; if we do the mathematics of elimination, this was an indirect hit at Chilima who is not in good books with his boss. The same cannot be said of Chakwera who was the other panellist during the debate.

Not wanting to be outdone, Chilima would also throw jabs Muluzi’s way, turning around an insinuation by Muluzi that running government is serious business and that Chilima had never won an election by saying: inu munayamba mwawinapo chisankho?

Over and above the innuendos, it was interesting to hear candidates come out straight on issues such as quota system of choosing students into public institutions of higher learning, fertiliser subsidy and corruption.

Muluzi, however, exciting and fun as he was, kept dodging the bullet on these issues, opting to probe his fellow panellists on the same by fishing out their manifesto. Though this might have not necessarily scored him points, it certainly did help enliven what was otherwise a quite affair for a debate.

Litmus test

We will not bother ourselves much as to who came out tops on the debate night but here is what we know for sure; Chilima and Muluzi have certainly come of age but whether the way they handled themselves that night is enough to convince people to no longer brand them ‘babies’… that I will leave it to you to decide.

Certainly, the two, together with Chakwera, might have jumped the first huddle by showing up and participating in the debate while others chose to stay away but the real test is on May 21 when Malawians will get to decide as to who is really mature to run the affairs of the country as President.

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