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Will Lazarus Chakwera rise?

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By Alick Ponje:

SUBMITTING PAPERS TODAY—Chakwera (right) and Mia

All roads will be leading to Comesa Hall in Blantyre from today to Friday week as those aspiring to rise to the top-most seat and one seeking a fresh mandate on May 21 will be officially informing Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) about their intentions.

The past few weeks have been fraught with tensions and speculations especially on positions of running-mates and possible alliances ahead of the polls.

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It is opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) only which sufficiently calmed guesswork on a possible running-mate after, a few weeks ago, its leader Lazarus Chakwera publicly announced that he would pair his deputy Sidik Mia on the ballot papers.

Observers described the announcement as not out of the ordinary following Mia’s strategic positioning in the party and how he was aligning himself with its ideologies and members.

So, today, the duo will be invading the streets of Blantyre, with their supporters in their train, on their way to the hall of joy and tears. It is the same place where about five years ago Mec announced that their party had come second in a poll that ended Joyce Banda’s two-year stint in power and took the Democratic Progressive Party back in command.

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Chakwera opted for a reconciliation path immediately after losing the election despite that his followers kept singing the ‘stolen vote’ song which, of course, meant little or nothing at all.

The MCP leader—who has been at the helm of the party since winning at the 2013 convention—shifted from the pulpit in a move his supporters defend as the continued pursuit of servanthood.

Born on April 5 1955 in Lilongwe, Chakwera was president of the Malawi Assemblies of God from 1989 to 2013. Apparently, he was given the name Lazarus by his father who believed that he would live after two brothers born before him died in their infancy.

He is married to Monica and, together, they have four children and grandchildren. He has a doctorate degree from Trinity International University, USA, and the Pan Africa Theological Seminary awarded him professorship in 2005.

In his bid for the top job, Chakwera is riding on the experience of his party— which has been in opposition since it was booted out of government in 1994—, its firm grassroots structures, and, perhaps, the mistakes of the current administration.

In fact, that is what most opposition political parties capitalise on. So he is not alone.

MCP’s performance during the October 2017 by-elections, where it scooped five of the parliamentary and local government seats which were being competed for, seemed to give the party some confidence on its future.

However, some analysts described the sample size as too small to determine the outcome of a larger poll which has people across the country taking part.

There are also those who believe that there was a time Malawians were so frustrated with the current administration that they were willing to support any other political party.

But the political terrain has significantly changed, especially with the coming of Vice-President Saulos Chilima’s UTM. Alliances which are being formed ahead of the elections also seem to complicate the predictability of the polls.

MCP’s desire to remain steadfast was once terribly dented by the numerous court cases against the party’s leadership by some of its members and former members who seemed to finally throw in the towel after an impromptu convention that endorsed Chakwera.

The court battles battered the party and were, perhaps, Chakwera’s biggest test since he became MCP leader. But, from them, the party’s supporters argue, they rose stronger and became more resilient in their ideals.

Now, Chakwera continues to extol the virtues of a corruption-free Malawi and a people united in one force to ensure resources are equitably distributed. Whether such messages appeal to voters will be determined on May 21.

But he has stuck to it from the time be became MCP’s torchbearer in 2013.

He has also taken it upon himself to right the wrongs of his party, especially those purportedly committed during the one-party era while also defending ‘frivolous claims aimed at just tarnishing the image of the party’.

At the 2013 convention, Chakwera defended MCP’s past as ‘not all wrong’, and asked for forgiveness for the wrong aspects. He further offered an olive branch to those who dumped the party for various reasons including differences with its leadership before him.

“MCP is a party of the struggle; today, it must now fight to end the challenges facing Malawians. Let us be honest, MCP is a very strong party with proper grassroot structures throughout the country,” Chakwera said that time.

His larger vision of good governance, the need to revamp the agriculture sector to spearhead economic development and end corruption still failed to get him enough votes. Will he rise to the top this time?

As Chakwera and Mia present their nomination forms to Mec today at 9am before John Chisi of United Party and independent aspirant Florence Fulayi, he will obviously be as hopeful as President Peter Mutharika, who will be the last but one to present his papers on Friday, Saulos Chilima who will present his on Wednesday and Atupele Muluzi, who will present his on Thursday.

There is still room for surprises this week before Mec moves out of Comesa. Not all those who have been allocated slots for the submissions will really do that

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