Updated: Jan 21
The drama, anxieties and entertainment from the presentation of nomination papers and appointments of running mates are now fizzling out. For some like President Peter Mutharika, the decision of running mate has not only left us asking ‘what just happened here?’ but may well become a costly one on both the ballot as well as the internal cohesion of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The United Transformation Movement (UTM), which some expected would choose a woman to not only walk the talk on its appeals for a progressive modern movement but to also acknowledge the chivalrous role of women in its very establishment, opted to take its chances with Michael Usi. UTM’s feminist supporters have muttered their disappointments. Malawi Congress Party’s Lazarus Chakwera may be struggling with post facto introspection for his early choice of Sidik Mia, a choice that may have appeared to be strategic at the time, but which may be turning into a liability in the face of growing UTM influence.
Ras Chikomeni decided on a simpler approach, and with a gender-equal move, settled for his birth mother to run with him. Perhaps to the surprise of many, she rose to the occasion! And Malume Mr. Swira waited for his running mate who was making it to COMESA Hall on Adam’s transport to present their nomination papers. Like Ras Chikomeni, he did not bring the MK2 million required by the Electoral Commission, nor did he appear at the Hall with enough endorsements for his candidacy.
But none of these events are wanting of attention as the noteworthy maneuverings of the only female candidate in the upcoming presidential election, one Joyce Hilda Mtila-Banda.
Joyce Banda may have almost genuinely had the sympathy of some. To the West, she has always been a darling, frequently understood to have endured the most egregious threats to her life for her being a political threat to the DPP and particularly to its President, Mr. Mutharika. She has, to her Western sympathizers, played the gender card and her no-nonsense spirit for tackling corruption for her perceived persecution. To many Malawians, though, Mrs. Banda is still that disappointing figure of gender equality that is almost equated to incompetence and, as a matter of fact, the very failure to stem corruption. On the contrary, she is seen as a symbol of funneling graft in government. In spite of the disappointments and risks associated with her as a leader, a good number of well-meaning supporters still had hope. Until last week.
When the lure of power handed to her son, Roy Kachale, was dampened by Saulos Chilima’s rebuff to sustain a political dynasty that has characterized the Mutharikas and the Muluzis, Mrs. Banda walked away from the political alliance she so proudly took photos for as fast as she had come in. With equal speed, she rolled back a promise she made, on account of age, that she would not deem herself fit to run for the presidency. She not only announced she was running on behalf of her People’s Party (PP), but picked a running mate, demonstrating how running was always a contemplation for her.
Swinging on a pendulum about whether she would run in May is not only a concern about Mrs. Banda’s decisiveness as a leader, nor is it just a worry about her fitness for the office she vies. The trouble with her quick 180-degree turn-around is that she has demonstrated a very troubling intent to continue with the status quo rather than the change that Malawians seek. First is the selfishness and, to be quite frank, her arrogance in proposing her own son to run as Saulos Chilima’s running mate in the impending elections. Mrs. Banda has failed to grasp the need for an experienced and weathered politician who could fit the bill better than a young man whose single qualification for the position is the privilege of having his politician mother’s blood running through his veins. It beats reason that when Mrs. Banda eventually presented her nomination papers to run on a PP ticket, it was not her son she picked to run with her, but a seasoned bureaucrat in Dr. Jerry Jana. The puzzle that Mrs. Banda is unable to crack for Malawians is why it was not easy for her to exert her weight for Mr. Jana as Mr. Chilima’s running mate in a political machinery that has a chance at winning the election. Being running mate in a presidential election, as Mr. Jana himself will soon realize, will only count in history as the closest he will ever come to governing the country.
It then follows that Mrs. Banda’s move to force her son into political office and/or to run for the presidency herself must be a worry for every Malawian qualified to vote. Her desperation to prove she is deserving of the tenancy at Kamuzu Palace is an indication of how she has so much to lose if the United Transformation Movement (UTM) or any alliance it may form were to win the election. After all, among her safe havens, the UTM has the least connections with her that could safeguard a prosecution should the Cashgate cases be resuscitated with enough vigor to implicate the big wigs in the DPP and PP governments. The convenience, then, would be the job Mr. Kachale would do were he to find favor in Mr. Chilima’s choice for running mate. For one thing Mrs. Banda knows is that the reluctance of the DPP government to take her to court has emanated from the fear to implicate itself in the proceedings.
Alas! Mrs. Banda finds herself on the lonely side of the fence and must fend for herself if she will be immune to the discomforts of courtrooms and prison cells. Even more unsettling is the regret for having coiled when she could have brought down the DPP during her short presidency after Justice Elton Singini’s commission of inquiry had handed her a damaging report for Mr. Mutharika and the Midnight Six. As it were, the very reason the Midnight Six desperately tried to outpace Mrs. Banda would likely be the very same rationale on which Mrs. Banda would prefer for herself to lead government or let her son do the job for her, which is the aroma of corruption that follows her.
As a prophet is without honor in own country, Mrs. Banda is unpopular in Malawi and knows the PP has – under a disposition of 'free and fair' elections – no chance to take the next government. Her maneuvers of last week will be regrettable.