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Old guard cowards, it’s time for APM to settle it

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As a human being, it is most probable that President Peter Mutharika feels hurt with what is happening to his beloved Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as a result of Hurricane Callista.

It is possible that the President feels he was stabbed in the back because it was his sister-in-law, Callista Mutharika, who started it all.

She told a WhatsApp group the President should pave the way for his young vice, Saulos Chilima, as the flag carrier of the DPP in next year’s elections if the party has to stand any chance of forming the next government.

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The statement has opened floodgates of hell and it has broken loose that, as we speak, battle lines have been drawn between the old conservative guard and those seeking change in the party.

The old guard wants to keep with the President while the young liberal generation, as represented by director of youth Louis Ngalande and MPs such as Bon Kalindo and Allan Ngumuya, want Chilima to take over.

But the President may feel hard done by this and maybe rightly so. But he must ride above it because he alone can settle it with just one word.

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Mutharika has constantly projected the image of himself as a democrat who is calm in the face of provocation to allow citizens to exercise various freedoms that are enshrined in the Constitution.

Now the President faces another test of his credentials and it is a classic case coming straight from the handbook on how to deal with dissent if you are a leader of a democratic party.

The conservatives are up in arms defending the position of Mutharika.

In a space of two weeks, the conservatives have addressed so many press conferences across the country that media were left breathless in trying to catch up as well as concoct fresh headlines everyday to keep the reading public interested.

In all the press conferences, in support of the President staying on, the old guards in the party have peddled the line that, although the President is advanced in age at 79, he is fit as the proverbial fiddle as no doctor has declared him to the contrary to stop him from running  for president again come the hour next year.

The Dausis, Chapondas and Mphepos of this world hasten to add that the Constitution has no cap on age limit after one turns 35.

This is all fine and probably they have a point in democratic Malawi.

The only problem is that they do not just stop there but have resorted to playing foul in the game by saying the President has already won the right to stand.

They say even if the DPP was to hold a convention today, the President would go unopposed to still represent the party during the elections next year.

Some among these conservatives, such as DPP regional governor for the North Kennedy Sanga, have even gone to the extent of saying that delegates deemed to be anti- Mutharika will not be allowed to travel to the venue of the convention, wherever it will be.

There are even pockets of threats against Callista Mutharika and others who are pro-Chilima.

At best, this is foul play but, at worst, it is cowardice. In both instances, it should not be acceptable in a democratic 21st Century Malawi.

If the conservatives are sure that those advocating that Mutharika steps aside are misguided and a minority in the party, why not allow them to ask Chilima to challenge the President at the convention?

This is the only way to make them shut their mouths and hold their peace forever. It would even strengthen the position of the President in the party.

At the end of the day, it is Mutharika who can settle this matter. It can be done if he openly declares that he is not afraid of a democratic challenge to his leadership and that Chilima is free to contest for presidency in the DPP.

The President knows this is the only democratic way to deal with political dissent.

It is what happens everywhere when democrats are confronted with leadership challenges. Henry Chimunthu Banda challenged Mutharika in 2013 and the President won. Why should it seem that he is afraid this time?

The danger that the President faces, if he panders to the whims of the conservatives in the party who want to run roughshod over those who say he must not stand, is that he would be discredited as a tin pot dictator.

Besides, it is ultimately Malawians who will have a final say on who goes to the State House after next year’s elections.

The DPP conservatives may succeed to stifle dissent and stop anybody from challenging the President but they will not succeed in forcing Malawians to vote for him if they feel his age should be an issue.

It is clear that when the conservatives say Mutharika should stand, they are not doing it because they have the interests of this nation at heart.

It is primarily because they do not trust the young Chilima to protect their positions and privileges.

All this mistrust, cowardice and mutual suspicion can fall off if the President rides above it and allows that the challenge to his leadership be settled at a ballot by the rank and file of the party.

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