We all wanted President Peter Mutharika to say something tangible on the divisions that are threatening to tear apart his party, the DPP.
Well, on arrival from the UK on Saturday he did just that.
Mutharika’s message, delivered with bravado and gusto as soon as he disembarked from the plane that brought him home in Lilongwe, was to the point: Come rain or sunshine, he will run for presidency on the DPP ticket in next year’s elections.
Then he has coined a name for those in the party calling for his youthful vice Saulos Chilima, that include his in-law Callista Mutharika, to take over the mantle in DPP.
In the President’s plain view, characters such as Director of Youth Louis Ngalande and Mulanje South MP Bon Kalindo who are openly calling for Chilima to be DPP’s candidate, are the epitome of betrayal made in frame of Judas Iscariot, the ultimate betrayer of Jesus Christ which led to his death on the cross more than two thousand years ago.
It is not wrong for the President to declare his intentions to run because it is his right and yes, there is nothing in the Constitution that stops him from being on the ballot next year.
After one turns 35, there is no cap on the upper age limit that stops one from running for president although we stop public officials from working after they turn 60, believing that they are past it.
What is wrong is for the President to call names those in DPP calling on the rank and file in the party to take a second look at his candidacy and arguing that probably the party has a better chance of being retained to power next year if Chilima was to take over.
These are not Judas Iscariots. On the contrary, they are faithful members of the DPP who do not want to follow the party dictates blindly but are aware of their democratic rights.
They are saying nothing illegal.
The President must not dismiss them outright because they will not go away with a wave of his hand.
As I keep on saying, there is one way of dealing with leadership challenge open to a 21st Century politician and it is to go back to the owners of the party, the rank and file and allow them to choose, in a bid to get a fresh mandate.
The President and those who support him unwaveringly must accept that they have a big problem on their hands which will not go away just by bellowing party slogans and vowing he will be the candidate come next year.
The problem is right in front of their noses and it has a name and the name is Saulos Chilima.
They chose to treat him shabbily for the past four years and chickens have come home to roast.
The first step in solving a problem is to accept it but sadly the President is not even anywhere near to that.
On the contrary, he wants to pretend in public there is no problem and Chilima is playing along by faithfully executing his official duties that include being the first to shake his boss’ hand upon touching down from abroad.
Yet behind the handshake, there is a serious problem and the problem is that supporters of Chilima are urging him to challenge his boss.
And Mutharika should make no mistake, Chilima will respond at an appropriate time and it will not be the response the President will like.
The conservative wing of the DPP can succeed in shutting off the Chilima camp from the party but they will not succeed in stopping it from breaking away and that will call into serious question the very survival of the political grouping. Chilima will take many with him
Which is why, the ball is in the President’s court.
He will probably succeed in shutting off Chilima and his supporters from the DPP but he cannot get the same success in stopping his vice from being on the ballot next year.
As to the President’s insistence on his candidacy, it will be up to Malawians next year to decide whether they will think at 80, he still has some fuel in his tank to meet the rigors required of the presidency.
Chilima and other candidates such as MCP leader Lazarus Chakwera, PP’s Joyce Banda (she is back in town) and even UDF’s Atupele Muluzi(unless he becomes Mutharika’s running mate) will harp on his age as a soft spot.
They will do this to try to convince Malawians that voting for Mutharika is tantamount to voting for those surrounding him (Kalindo has equally bad names for them) to be taking advantage of his age and make bad selfish decisions on his behalf.
If the President and DPP are not careful, the whole campaign might just come down to be about the age of the President.
Will they handle it? Your guess is as good as mine.
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