Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), as an organisation, will inevitably go through a complete transformation over the next five years.
This does not even depend on the court challenge of Malawi Congress Party’s leader Lazarus Chakwera and UTM’s president Saulos Chilima against President Peter Mutharika, who Malawi Electoral Commission declared winner of May 21 presidential elections.
The point that still obtains is that whether the Constitutional Court in Lilongwe will agree or not with the petitioners to declare the polls invalid and call for a rerun, DPP must still go through transformation.
Whether it likes or not, the party will for the first time since its formation around 2010 have no Mutharika name as leader or indeed on the ballot paper come the next guaranteed election in 2024.
It is, therefore, not surprising that there is jostling for the ultimate prize of who becomes leader of the party and, therefore, its torchbearer in the May 2024 elections.
The infighting has started early but is so hot that Mutharika could not resist calming the waters and warning of the dangers that uncontrolled ambition can do to the status of the party at the time the presidency is fighting for its survival both legally in court and politically on the ground.
He told the blue gathering that welcomed him in Blantyre from Lilongwe Sunday that he knows that there is infighting in DPP as regards who succeeds him but they must all wait until 2023 when they will be an elective convention to choose who gets the leadership baton from him.
But for calling for calm, the President is fighting a losing battle. There will not be calmness in the party because something big is at stake. The people who are jostling for the positions are eyeing a bigger prize and it is the State House.
The names that are being carelessly thrown into the hat— DPP Vice-President for South and Minister of Agriculture Kondwani Nankhumwa, Minister of Finance Joseph Mwanamvekha, Minister of Justice Bright Msaka and Vice- President Everton Chimulirenji, reportedly with support from Local Government Minister Ben Phiri, are bona fide Malawians and, therefore, qualified to be leaders of DPP and even ascend to the presidency. Nobody can take that away from them.
But the question is: Are they made of sterner stuff, as William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, asked more than 400 years ago, using Mark Antony in Julius Caesar to question Brutus’ assertion that he killed the Roman dictator and politician because he was ambitious?
Ambition is not wrong at any given time but what the President should be questioning his protégés is whether they have the interests of Malawians at heart. Can the people being mentioned lead? Do they have the requisite qualification, both in terms of education and experience?
The President did not exactly catch anybody by surprise because we, as citizens and some of us as journalists, always knew all along that, since May 21 elections, in fact even before that, there is some infighting in DPP as regards who succeeds him.
Probably what we did not fully comprehend was how serious the problem was that it would attract even the President’s comment on it.
From now onwards, that the President has validated our observation, the interest is how it will eventually pan out.
As Malawians, we will analyse before 2023 the names being thrown into the hat and who has a better chance at it and then why?
Does Chimulirenji have any chance, for example, now that he is in office or he is still ranked outside, humble and not interested as he has always wanted or even professed during the campaign?
What about the Nankhumwas or Mwanamvekhas or Msakas of this world?
Will matters such as tribe and where one comes from play a role in identifying who succeeds Mutharika?
Before the 2014 elections, the then Speaker of Parliament Henry Chimunthu Banda competed with Mutharika for the DPP’s leadership and the feeling then was that the President had a head start in the race and it largely depended on where he comes from and the name Mutharika on his ID card.
Will the jostling for the presidency of DPP calm down to take heed of the President’s call and warning?
The President seems to project the fact that he does not want to anoint a successor. Will he stick to that or will he say one thing in public while doing something opposite in the background, rooting for the chosen one?
Will there be casualties as it happened with United Democratic Front with the fallout of Justin Malewezi and the late Aleke Banda after former president Bakili Muluzi anointed the late Bingu wa Mutharika as the torchbearer in the 2009 elections, only to disappoint them by dumping the yellow camp and form his own DPP later?
Let me make this clear at this point. Succession problems are not the preserve of only DPP.
A look at other parties such as UTM and MCP will show that they will have their own battles at the appointed time.
What would happen to MCP and UTM, for example if, God forbid, Chakwera and Chilima, dropped dead today? Who would immediately succeed them? Are they capable?
In general terms, parties in this country do not manage succession well and they can do better.
More often than not, it is not a fair competition because some candidates are given a head start and regionalism and tribalism play a big part.
All in all, interesting times for those of us watching DPP’s succession plan as it unravels in front of all us watching from far.
But, in the final analysis, whatever happens should be in the best interest of the country.
It should not be interest of only those jostling for the position or those who sponsor them because they have a financial interest and want to control them in case they ascend to the position.
That is the recipe of State capture which nobody wishes.
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.