..how the cyclone comeback damages DPP chances
Analysis by our Political Editor
0ne of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by inferiors- Plato
He only left Kamuzu Palace 34 months ago but, it seems, Tonse Alliance’s chaos and their growing unpopularity has opened the door for a potential comeback for the former President Arthur Peter Mutharika, not from the horse’s mouth, but what his closest allies are projecting. Its all systems are set for the DPP leader.
The question is whether he can make it as a presidential candidate for the party, and indeed pass the ballot test at the national polls expected in September 2025? Less than 872 days from today.
Just a few months ago President Mutharika stood side by side with six presidential hopefuls, like a father figure. He told his party faithful that among the six- Dalitso Kabambe, Kondwani Nankhumwa, Bright Msaka, Richard Gadama, Prophet David Mbewe (who has since pulled out) and Joseph Mwanamvenkha- he had faith one of them would succeed him. Malawians thought the DPP had completed its political metamorphosis.
But now, in an extraordinary turn of events, he could be back. Four of the party’s six regions have endorsed his return. The rebellion against the endorsement has seen the party’s legislator’s openly express dissent. Four other parliamentarians from the North have also endorsed their own- Kondwani Nankhumwa, the Leader of Opposition and the party’s vice president for the south.
In essence, only Mutharika and Nankhumwa have received public endorsements. Close associates of Kabambe and Msaka still strongly believe President Mutharika will take the higher ground and leave the stage. They forget the Everton Chimulilenji running mate saga where he ended up being picked from Ginnery Corner whilst others waited in vain at Mount Soche.
Love him or hate him, the political ball game now rests with Peter Mutharika. If he decides to run, he could face a rebellion mainly from Kondwani Nankhumwa and most youthful members of the party that could eventually leave the DPP and split its Southern Region stronghold.
With 50 plus one voting system, a Peter Mutharika candidacy backed by mainly the same people that most Malawians accuse to have entrenched looting and cartelism type of politics, he could find challenges to convince other regions (East, North and Centre) that did not vote for DPP in 2020 that the party is reformed and should be given a chance again.
The failures of President Lazarus Chakwera and his Tonse Alliance partners do not translate into an automatic vote for the DPP. Without an open democratic process that instils confidence in the population of a changed DPP, a Mutharika candidacy is not an automatic ticket to power as his supporters argue.
APM or Adadi as he is called by his admirer’s rule is a mixed bag. He had a strong performance record on some issues. Yes, maize was abundant. Forex was what MCP lingo terms as ngwambwi ngambwi and both inflation and interest rates were nose diving leading to stable and lower prices.
But there are things also the DPP failed to check, corruption, tribalism, nepotism and open arrogance towards the voters. Some individuals became so powerful, and impunity reigned without the President intervening. These are issues that led the DPP to lose its support in the Northern Region and Central Region.
These are the issues beyond performance of the president. They are issues of perception. Having the same people perceived to have contributed to the downfall of the first Mutharika term around him as a candidate could prove more challenging. In politics, perception is the currency.
If Mutharika decides to run, which is within his rights, let him push for proper and open system within the party. That could render democratic credence to the process. Let the party convention elect freely people in all positions. Then, may be then, he will be able to bounce back at national level.
Manipulation and firing dissent like the case of Charles Mchacha and others does not inspire hope of a reformed party. It still sounds like a cartel controlling the party. Professor Peter Mutharika, will need to rise and reclaim his powers as the leader of the party.
If President Mutharika decides not to run, allowing the current tornado to continue is also a recipe for disaster. The party would be fractured and damaged by the time he decides to tell the nation he is not running again.
Party infighting has never helped a party win. The recent history of MCP, UDF and even the DPP itself confirms this.
With the current strong words being used against each other by pro and anti-Mutharika camps, the damage could be difficult to repair as the MCP failed to heal from the Gwanda Chakuamba versus John Tembo fight.
When Chakuamba left, MCP chances of winning in the South or North diminished further. It took a decade, JZU retirement, fresh blood in the name of Chakwera for the MCP to inch close to power. The Mia’s- Sidik and Abida brought a few seats in the lower shire. In the North Kezzie Msukwa, late Cornelius Mwalwanda, Uchizi Mkandawire, Jacob Hara, Ken Zikhale Ng’oma and Catherine NyaHara Gotani salvaged a vote for the MCP in the region in 2019.
The UDF started shelving its big names in 2002 when Brown Mpinganjira, Cassim Chilumpha, Peter Chupa and others were targeted. Then it was the time of Aleke Banda, Justin Malewezi, Harry Thompson and others. The attempt by Former President Bakili Muluzi to return to power in 2009 saw the last of the old guards leave the UDF namely Friday Jumbe, Sam Mpasu and Joseph Kubwalo among others.
Both the MCP and the UDF on their own can never win a national election. UDF at its peak amassed 93 seats in parliament. It failed to keep the momentum. The MCP at its peak won 60 seats but has failed to gain them back. DPP won a record 114 seats and a majority of 65 percent in 2009.
In all these cases where the three parties won a majority, the party hierarchy configuration had similar elements. The parties looked more democratic, nationally represented and had open and competitive conventions. This extended to party primary elections.
Every time the MCP, UDF and DPP manipulate conventions, fire people or split the party, there is abundant evidence that the number of its seats in parliament and their national vote share goes down.
If the DPP fails to manage its transition, if Mutharika is forced and not elected in a free and fair election. If the current infighting and firing continues, DPP will loose more as an entity and whoever emerges as a candidate will have an uphill task of rebuilding a damaged party. Such a party should forget being anywhere near power.
With DPP in a free for all fight mode, the MCP can smile at last, it makes them two parties that have more work to do to convince Malawians they are both democratic and are able to accommodate all Malawians across- from the South, East, Centre and the North. 50 plus one is here to stay.
Back to our questions, can Mutharika win party nomination? The probability of other candidates shying away from challenging him, President Mutharika can win to become a DPP candidate. Can he win national vote? That is a question the party will need to do a soul searching as to how to convince others to join you, when you are expelling your own like Mchacha’s.
Without deep reflection, the damage from this political cyclone could condemn the DPP to history.
2025 race is still wide open for any party that seems to be democratic enough by first managing itself.
All Malawians want, is a party that is open, democratic and accountable enough to help them solve current economic crisis. Failing to solve simple party succession debate, surely does not inspire hope.