Hands to the wheel as Malawi’s presidential aspirants set sail
By Richard Chirombo:
There is time for the mighty, those we treat as potentates, to come back to their senses and, again, be the diminutive creatures they were at birth.
It is not a voluntary act, for the most part, but one forced by the artificial process we call national elections. Elections, no matter how abstract, exert some perceptibly heavy weight which, when it hits the senses of politicians, cows them into human beings we want them to be.
Well, it is that time again— the only time, once in five years— when politicians are dwarfed by the fear of losing national elections and are left with no choice but to worship the would-be voters they have been taking for granted all along.
After all, the voter— poor or rich— wields the vote, the equivalent of a heavy axe, that can cut through the limitless ambitions of many a politician, be it Local Government election aspirant, parliamentary candidate or presidential hopeful.
Already, even before the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) tolls the bell, marking the launch of the two-month official campaign period which will this year span from March 19 to May 19, politicians have put their hands to the wheel, crisscrossing the country with the zeal of a foreign tourist who has never been to Malawi.
Ruling Democratic Progressive Party leader, President Peter Mutharika, who has been flashing the card of a development-conscious leader, has been on a national tour, leaving the confines of his comfort zone to face the citizenry on— like he did the other day— the street or at choreographed State engagements or political rallies.
Times have, indeed, changed.
Actually, in the anonymity of the crowds, as he tries to portray himself as a man-of-the-people, he has been promising heaven on earth— as when he said he was ready to transform Malawi into Europe in the next five years.
Well, as former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika said, a man – and woman?— is entitled to dreaming in colour even when there is no ink with which to ‘paint’ the dreams into reality, hard reality, for that matter.
One of the stumbling blocks to his soft sail on May 21 is, of course, the killing of people with albinism— a distraction of magnanimous proportions because, as he says, his administration has done its best, in terms of infrastructure development, food security, economic stability, education and healthcare service delivery, power generation, among other areas, during the five years he has been Chief Executive Officer of this land of the lake.
Of course, he says he has put in place cogs aimed at ensuring safety of people with albinism, one of which being the procurement of alarm devices to be ‘planted’ on each person with albinism so that, when the heartless humans who are out to pluck their lives out of the earth pounce, police should be a button-press away.
The President has also met with representatives of people with albinism, which means he is tackling, akin to making hay, one of the issues that could define his campaign as the sun shines—considering that the official campaign period starts on March 19.
His presidential running mate, Everton Chimulirenji, has also been to the ground, starting with a rally he held in Ntcheu District in February, followed by the Masintha one in Lilongwe and, last week, in Mzuzu.
He has taken advantage of the rallies to reaffirm his wish to be Mutharika’s good boy. He has also used some of the meetings, like the Mzuzu one, to portray himself as a man who rises from the ground to become important in national affairs, hence asking “poor” people to vote for their fellow “poor’ man.
Perhaps Vice-President Saulos Chilima has been the pioneer of strategic political campaigning, for, starting from the time he severed ties with the ruling party, he has been selling his UTM— whose torch he will carry at the May 21 presidential election— as one sells fresh fish from Lake Malawi. You sit on the fish for a second and it goes bad.
Chilima has crisscrossed the country, selling himself as a youthful character who delivers on his promises, often citing strides he made when he was in charge of public reforms in the current administration.
Chilima is also casting himself as the hapless chap who could not call the shots in his father’s house [Mutharika’s administration] for, as former president Bakili Muluzi once said, “wapakaliyala sayimba belu [there can only be one leader at a time]”.
His rallies are, therefore, propelled by his wish to call the shots [from the front], promising to do some of the things the current administration has not done— like abolishing Quota System, which, in proper speak, means equitable access to tertiary education [read, in public universities].
He has promised to transform agriculture by introducing one mega farm in each district, creating one million jobs during his first year in office, shedding off some of the president’s powers, especially when it comes to the appointment of heads of governance institutions such as the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
His running mate, Michael Usi, has gone a step further, introducing Development Anthropology— which is another name for door-to-door campaign. Crouching to the ground like a commoner, Usi— and Chilima too— has been meeting ordinary members of society, spinning them into the UTM-gravity with the aim of squeezing that one vote out of them.
It remains to be seen how far he, and Chilima, will go.
Malawi Congress Party torch-bearer Lazarus Chakwera is in with his HI5 agenda, premised on servant leadership, prospering together, ending corruption, uniting Malawians and rule of law.
With that message, Chakwera, who was the Leader of Opposition in Parliament in the past four years or so, before being replaced by Lobin Lowe, has been to Central, Southern and Northern region districts as he seeks to consolidate his supporters’ base and build a leadership-mansion from the ashes of his 2014 loss at the polls.
So far, the party seems to be attracting both the old and young.
His running mate, former Cabinet minister Sidik Mia, has not stayed home. He has been mobilising his supporters in the Shire Valley districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa, while also reaching out to people in Mangochi and Machinga districts to make up for what MCP did not get, in terms of votes, in the 2014 Tripartite Elections.
Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front, who seems to have been taken by surprise by last-minute events, culminating in his decision to run for president and pick running mate Frank Mwenifumbo, has, perhaps, been the most quiet as he is yet to make forays into districts other than those of the Eastern Region [this is a political region], such as Mangochi, Machinga and Zomba.
But Mwenifumbo has hit the ground running, in the past two weeks visiting districts such as Rumphi and Mzimba, where he is selling Atupele, who is a Cabinet minister, as the next best thing to happen to Malawi.
His [Atupele’s] experience in the government is the wind that will take his UDF-boat to the State House, along with his vision for a food secure Malawi, economically empowered Malawians and black-out-free country, Mwenifumbo has been preaching.
When Mec declares the official campaign period on March 19, it is likely that Atupele will begin to ram into Mutharika.
As for former president Joyce Banda, she has been a paragon of contradictions, one day declaring that she is not contesting in the election and, just in the nick of time, saying the opposite.
What Banda has been consistent on is her message of consistent power supply, economic transformation through the introduction of loan facilities, restoring donor confidence in our systems, promoting security so that people, like those with albinism, may live freely thereafter, freeing the public airwaves, among other things.
Her running mate, Jerry Jana, has been in tow, although he is yet to pave his own path when campaigning so that, when Banda heads north, Jana should be in the opposite direction.
Even Peter Kuwani of Mbakuwaku Movement for Development has been on the campaign trail, although he has largely focused on Mchinji District.
However, Umodzi Party’s John Chisi has chosen to play by the rules; waiting for Mec to blow the whistle so that he does everything within the confines of the law.
What Malawians must be certain about is that campaign period is a time of division, sometimes of terror. What Mtendere Electoral Support Network and Malawi Electoral Support Network leaders are saying about focusing on issue-based campaign could just be a shout into the fast winds of politics; the message may be heard but it will not be in the air long enough for politicians to take it seriously.
So, as politicians set sail for campaign, civil society organisations should as well prepare to wash their faces with a fountain of tears-of-regret.
After all, when it is campaign time, politicians shed their skin of normalcy and engage an extra gear in spewing garbage in the form of lies; they step past their normal self to win some freedom from honesty as they refine and redefine reality for voters.
Just that voters know better and, while they may be pretending to have been tamed when attending political meetings, sometimes going to the extent of pretending to flower in the hands of politicians, they become their own persons in the voting booth, where their verdict is final and cannot be tempered with even by Mec.
What a precarious position for politicians.
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