By Alick Ponje:
Vice-President and UTM leader Saulos Chilima is submitting his nomination papers to Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) at Comesa Hall in Blantyre today, having been sufficiently given the mandate to lead the party.
It may not be an overstatement that Chilima has not enjoyed being in that office, which seems to have been poisoned by a bad-luck deity from the time Malawi re-introduced multiparty politics.
All presidents, have failed to get along with their deputies to the very end and only Bakili Muluzi has gone to the polls with a running-mate for a second time.
So, Chilima is challenging his boss, Peter Mutharika, whose policies and governance style he trashes at every opportunity and whose Cabinet he technically remains a member of.
He feels Mutharika has failed to steer this country out of the ring of corruption and all sorts of bad governance aspects and wants to “clear the swamp”.
His campaign message, from the time he announced he would either lead his own party or support another party, has largely centred on the need to exorcise Malawi of the demons of cronyism, nepotism and corruption.
Today, he is fortifying his bid for the presidency—beyond vice-presidency—through the submission of papers two days after an alliance he struck with People’s Party (PP) fell apart barely three days after both sides had stormed the social media with the “good news”.
So far, we do not know who Chilima, born in Ntcheu 46 years ago, is going to take along when submitting his papers. Apparently, if the alliance with PP had worked, he would have picked his running-mate from the former governing party whose leader, Joyce Banda, submitted her papers Tuesday.
Banda had earlier indicated that she was not willing to stand or deputise anyone because she was contented with what she had done for the country.
But, after failing to agree with Chilima’s party on the composition of the pair, she rescinded her decision and rallied her supporters to Comesa where she submitted her nomination papers.
Chilima once claimed that he helped the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to win the 2014 elections but Mutharika has constantly dismissed the claim. Whatever the case, the former Airtel Malawi boss must have had something that Mutharika saw and was happy with. You do not choose a running-mate who will not improve the figures.
When he finally decided to leave DPP, the vice-president, who has a Doctor of Philosophy degree in knowledge management from the University of Bolton, United Kingdom, announced that he was not going to challenge his boss at the party’s elective convention despite that a movement canvassing for his bid had already established roots.
It was the first time for the devout Catholic to come out in the open on calls that he should contest at the convention, which gave Mutharika a second chance, after former first lady, Callista Mutharika, had first raised the issue.
In a speech announcing that he would be leaving DPP, Chilima indicated that he had accepted to partner Mutharika, leaving a lucrative private sector job, to help uplift lives of Malawians.
“At that time, I accepted to partner […] Mutharika and successfully run on the ticket of the DPP. Although this was a huge personal sacrifice, it surely pales in comparison to the incredible sacrifices of our forebearers,” he said.
There are those who claim that the Vice-President accepted to partner Mutharika after being promised that he would lead DPP after Mutharika’s first term. He denied the claims in a Times Exclusive interview.
But on the ticket of a different political party formed mid last year, Chilima is vying for the top job just like several others who feel they can do better than the rest.
Observers say there was a push in DPP to take Chilima out of the party by those who felt he was an outsider. Perhaps, that explains why he was being sidelined in most crucial State events.
Today, that may not matter much. He has his own party and his choice of running-mate will obviously have a huge impact on its performance. It will either pull or push some voters away.
Another challenge that Chilima faces in his bid for presidency is convincing voters on his choice to stick to the DPP-led government which he constantly describes as corrupt.
There are those who believe that his protest against the rampant corruption that he constantly talks about should have been shown through his resignation from his office.
Of course, he does not want to resign because that would mean forfeiting all the benefits that accrue to him once he leaves.
Otherwise, UTM, like the rest of political parties that want to lead Malawi after the May 21 tripartite elections, has some three more months to woo voters.
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