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Vice-presidency under scrutiny

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By Serah Makondetsa:

Malawians are spending over K10 billion a year funding the inactive Office of the Vice- President Saulos Chilima, an office that has always been problematic a trend Malawi News has established.

The office which operates upon delegation has been a victim of political fallouts between a president and their vice since the advent of multiparty elections in 1994.

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The country’s Constitution does not give a sitting president powers to fire their vice after being elected concurrently during the elections.

 Section 80 subsection 4 of the Constitution says: “The First Vice-President shall be elected concurrently with the President and the name of a candidate for the First Vice-President shall appear on the same ballot paper as the name of the Presidential candidate who nominated him.”

Since multiparty politics, a trend has shown that once elected into office, presidents have had fallouts with their vice with the recent case of President Peter Mutharika and Chilima, who quit Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to lead UTM.

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University of Malawi’s Chancellor College-based law expert Edge Kanyongolo said the trend is more down to politics than the way the Constitution was crafted.

Kanyongolo said the problem is not the law guiding the country but rather factors that various leaders consider in selecting a running mate during elections.

“I think they choose running mate not on the basis of having shared ideas or ideologies; it is usually convenience because you are pragmatist or maybe because one is trying to accumulate votes from a certain region but not shared vision or ideologies.

“Once you cross the bridge, in essence, the vice-president has served their purpose and, therefore, become excess baggage. So, I do not think the problem is the law but it is politics. It is the consideration that goes into selecting a running mate. It is essentially marriage of convenience and once the convenience is met, they are bound to break up,” he said.

On the other hand, various political parties have described the trend as a man-made problem usually created within the party in government.

DPP publicity secretary Nicholas Dausi, whose party has had about three fallouts with its vice through the late Bingu wa Mutharika and the incumbent, said the problem comes from vice-presidents, who he described as impatient and intolerant.

“There is impatience in the minds of vice-presidents. They feel once they have chances of high office, they think they must be the one doing what the president is doing. But, in my view there is hurry and there is no spirit of allowing the service to continue.

“The other thing is the people that surround and advise the vice-president and slowly one feels like they are worth of executing the duties better than the president,” he said.

Dausi further claimed Malawi is the only country in the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) region whose Constitution does not allow a sitting president to fire their vice.

“And that is why we have cases of a vice talking ill of a government they are part and receiving its privileges,” he said.

Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson Maurice Munthali said while the party has put in place measures to ensure the leader and his vice work together after elections, the problem lies in trust and ability to work together.

“Everybody knows in this country that we were the first party to unveil a running mate, an indication that Dr Lazarus Chakwera did not have problems in selecting a running mate. They respect one another, they trust one another, they can work together but you can see that most of the things end up being a personal matter.

“But, in MCP, we have shown that the two can work together, they trust each other, so it is all about trust and how well they can work with each other,” he said.

UTM spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga said the main catalyst is the choice of a running mate arguing most of the leaders overlook the issue of compatibility among them.

“You have to be compatible with your fellow leader; you need to have the same ideologies. Ideally, if the president does not condone corruption, the vice should be likewise. But when the two of you differ on how you look at issues, then you are bound to have a fallout. So, the main catalyst is the working relationship between the two based on ideologies,” he said.

Ackson Kalaile Banda spokesperson for a party whose leader Joyce Banda is a victim of president and vice fallout said the problem stems from power that some members of the party want through the two leaders.

“In most cases what happens is when you win an election, there is sharing of power as to who should do what and who will do what. In the long run, you see people start to bring divisions among the two leaders,” he said.

The political trend of fallouts includes Bingu and Cassim Chilumpha during Bingu’s first term, former president Joyce Banda and Bingu during his second term.

President Bakili Muluzi, who was Malawi’s first freely elected president, serving from 1994 to 2004, was deputised by Justin Malewezi. They got on well for nine years but, in 2004, Malewezi resigned from the ruling United Democratic Front when Muluzi named Bingu as his successor.

Banda’s relationship with her deputy Khumbo Kachali also turned sour in 2014 after she overlooked him as her running mate in the run-up to 2014 elections.

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