The battle for Chilima’s post

…fake tears, de-campaigning rivals, strategic sitting

…UTM likely to provide next vice president

Fake tears- strategically waiting for TV cameras, sitting closer to the powers and using media teams, party officials, and anyone to decampaign political rivals is now part of the routine as politicians from Tonse Alliance are fighting each other to replace late Dr Saulos Chilima before his remains are interred on Monday.

It is widely expected that President Lazarus Chakwera will appoint the next deputy from the UTM, a party that Chilima headed, but the process of identifying the potential candidate has now become a crisis for the party in mourning.

Usi with the late SKC and Party Secretary General Patricia kaliati

On Wednesday, the late Chilima’s deputy at UTM, Micheal Usi, was chased by UTM youth who accused him of betraying the party and that he had left the party as he was planning to stand as Blantyre Kabula MP as an independent. They accuse him of being sent by the MCP to destabilise the party.

Apart from Usi, Labour Minister Agness NyaLonje, Tourism Minister Vera Kamtukule, and Deputy Education Minister Nancy Chaola Mdooko are some of the UTM members in the cabinet, though only Kamtukule has been mentioned by some UTM officials that could make a better replacement for Chakwera.

Of fake tears, drama ensued on Saturday when a female politician strategically seated where President Chakwera would pass was heard at St Patrick’s Church asking if the camera was pointing at her, which, when confirmed by the TV crew, she started crying loudly, calling the President “mwatsala nokha bwana, mbale wanu wapita” which shocked bystanders as a choreographed crying.

Chakwera to appoint vice President by Thursday

The Malawi Law Society said the general public should note that under sections 84 and 88 of the Constitution, as read with section 45 of the General Interpretation Act, President Lazarus Chakwera is required to appoint a replacement Vice President within 7 days after the death of the Vice  President and in computing the 7 day period from the date of death to exclude any Sunday or  Public Holiday.

“As such, it is expected that by and not later than 19th June 2024, President Lazarus Chakwera should have appointed a person to replace the late Dr Saulos Klaus Chilima in the constitutional office of a Vice President,” added the Law Society.

However, the government has declared Monday a public holiday. As such, the seven days will now expire on Thursday, June 20.

The campaign over the dead body

The campaign is already underway by various high-profile public officials and their media teams to strategically place them in visible positions that they could perhaps- catch the eye of the President and gain lifetime pensions and a place in history.

However, so far, some Ministers are being isolated and blamed for the calamity, specifically Defense Minister Harry Mkandawire and Homeland Security Minister Ken Zikhale Ng’oma, with some UTM officials asking them to stay away from the funeral.

Zikhale has de-campaigned his own after the incident of the plane crash

“Mkandawire is MCP Vice President. If it was normal to pick someone from the party, he was supposed to be the one, not anyone. Other elements want him tainted, so it has been heaped on him, yet the MDF is mainly responsible, and the matter is supposed to be handled by Aviation under the Ministry of Transport.

Zikhale Ng’oma has nothing to do with Aviation but his ambition to run for the party deputy post. Police mobilised in Mzimba and Mzuzu in large numbers, but now it’s time to decampaign each other,” said one of the party officials with inside knowledge.

In another circulating photo, Zikhale Ng’oma and Information Minister Moses Kunkuyu are captured having a conversation, and what is seen as a smile has attracted some negative comments.

Probable MCP names

Though it will be a highly unusual move, if Chakwera gets anyone from MCP, they will likely be running mate in the 2025 elections, one year and three months away. The status will disturb the ongoing convention campaign for the party’s number two position.

Mkandawire, who is not running for any post, would be an obvious choice, but his political base within the party is shaky, and the coming in of allegations of negligence after the crash rules him out of contention. He has not campaigned.

The high-profile visibility during the funeral is achieved by Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani NyaHara, backed by powerful party figures. Her sitting, attendance at funeral events, and media coverage have so far boosted her to become the busiest public official alongside her campaign team, Minister Richard Chimwendo Banda.

Probable candidate – Gotani Hara

“Photos of her, including her to speak and strategic places she is sitting, are designed to deliver a message. Her dutiful social media activists have all posted pictures one or another showing her prominence during this mourning period,” said an analyst engaged in checking the different proposed names.

Her political rivals claim that if she is made vice president, her campaign chief, Chimwendo Banda, will succeed in parliament- a claim circulating during Chilima’s vigil at her official residence in Area 12. The Speaker and Chimwendo Banda met hostile supporters fueled by rivals who depicted them as those who spearheaded anti-Chilima sentiments in government.

Her other rivals for MCP posts, including Vitumbiko Mumba, Zikhale Ng’oma, and Information Minister Moses Kunkuyu, are not yet mentioned in the possible selection.

Peoples favourite but not on the list – Vitumbiko

The second high-profile name linked to a possible appointment is Mrs Abida Sidik Mia, wife of the former party deputy president and Water Minister. Her supporters feel she deserves to be appointed to honour Sidik Mia, who had to accept not being a running mate to accommodate the Tonse Alliance.

“She is suddenly very visible. Look at sitting at the funeral parlour and other places. Her photos, as well as well-polished photos, are now available. She hasn’t said it but is letting her people drive the narrative. Behind the scenes, she has been engaging others,” said an MCP official in the communication department.

Mrs Mia comes from the politically vital Lower Shire, which could turn President Chakwera’s political fortunes, but she does not have the national political capital to bring the required 50 plus 1 to the table to guarantee the president is reflected. Her supporters point at her religion as another factor- she is a Muslim.

The UTM contingent

The party of Vice President Chilima, most of the gurus outside government have focused on mourning their departed leader and have tried to tame angry supporters who are pointing fingers at the “invisible hand” as having contributed to the death of its populist leader.

The UTM was built around the brand Chilima, and apart from him, the nearest most visible and politically known individual is Secretary General Patricia Kaliati. But Kaliati, popularly known as Akweni, is politically street smart, and she knows how careers end by being over-ambitious and having poor timing.

Kaliati herself has been preoccupied with the funeral arrangements.

She has balanced her roles as Chief Executive of the party, Chief mourner and Chilima loyalists in a quite challenging week. Many say she could fit on political front of the UTM and calm those that have lost trust in some key members of the party.

Kaliati herself has been preoccupied with the funeral arrangements.

Micheal Usi, who paired with the late Chilima in 2019, has been visible next to President Chakwera, being recognised as UTM vice president. Chilima’s hardcore loyalists brand him as a traitor, saying he disappeared once the vice president was charged with corruption allegations.

“He never attended court, he never addressed UTM meetings, and he seemed to be the busiest minister. Suddenly, he wants to be the chief mourner. He made remarks in Mzuzu and was reported back to the party. He can’t call for a meeting of the party because he has not been part of it,” explained an NEC member, the rationale of the party youth who chased the Minister on Wednesday from party offices.

Usi himself is said to be canvassing. Like Kaliati, the Natural Resources Minister comes from Mulanje, but UTM officials claim he already declared he will contest as independent in Blantyre Kabula constituency. However, Mulanje is considered the main opposition DPP base.

Appointing Usi would mean following political hierarchy, but it would split the UTM further into two factions and eventually see it become an opposition party- especially those loyal to the late Chilima.

Tourism Minister Vera Kamtukule and UTM Publicity Secretary Felix Njawala are the other possible candidates. Kamtukule has had digital media appeal during her time in tourism. Still, no political base while Njawala who is seen as personal confidante of Chilima has been running around organising the funeral and insiders indicate he seem personally crashed with the accident. He would unlikely offer himself for the post.

“He has been crying most of times. He indicates that people have to show they are not responsible for what has happened, then he can work again,” said Njawala’s closest associate.

Other quarters have suggested Late Chlima’s widow, Mary, as she took an active role during her husband’s previous campaign. However, she classifies herself as not a politician, though she could unify the party should it decide to offer her the role. With questions surrounding Chilima’s death, it is unlikely that she could accept a political role.

Madinga, Kachali and Atupele Muluzi

Apart from Khumbo Kachali, vice president under President Joyce Banda and a member of Tonse Alliance, the other two names being floated are Standard Bank Chief Executive Officer Phillip Madinga and former UDF President Atupele Muluzi.

The three names are seen as outside the UTM/MCP rivalry and could help tame the anger, unlike the late vice president being replaced by someone from MCP.

Another probable candidate – Atupele Muluzi

“Kachali would be ideal to finish the term without extra costs or pension for one year. Madinga is in the same shoes as Chilima in 2013, a fresh and new brand that could bring sanity, while Atupele would be strategic to get a vote for Chakwera in the Eastern Region,” explained one of those giving out suggestions.

It was not clear if the names had gone beyond vetting.

Who will Chakwera appoint?

While names are flying and some are seen as strategically making themselves visible, the ultimate authority to make someone the next vice president is President Lazarus Chakwera, who, unfortunately, most of his appointments have left the public wondering if he gets the right advice.

This will be his most challenging decision. Everyone will be looking at signs of his next direction and how he could recover from the tragedy that has affected his image as a slow decision-maker after announcing that he had given the MDF four hours to report back.

Chakwera still undecided on who to deputise him

“Politically, the UTM supporters are angry. You could see the crying and songs at the former First Lady’s funeral in Balaka on Friday. Appointing a vice president outside UTM or weaker in the party will not help his recovery. He needs to ask the UTM to provide two names, and he can pick one. He will then say this was from UTM, not me,” advised one of the political analysts

President Chakwera on Saturday morning met some pro-government civil society leaders to find a common strategy to calm angry followers of the departed veep.

As the vice president remains will be interred on Monday, his replacement could save or finish the career of a man who won 59% of the national vote- the second highest after Bingu wa Mutharika only to lose it in five years.

The late Chilima’s vote was 1 018 369 million, which was 20.24% of the national vote, while Chakwera had 1 781 740 million votes or 35.41% of the national vote in 2019. The court ordered fresh elections saw Chakwera-Chilima pair garner 2 604 043 votes which was 59.34% while Peter Mutharika and Atupele Muluzi had 39.92% of the vote share translating into 1 751 877 actual votes.

With a 50 +1 voting system and declining popularity- the next vice president could be a matter of defining political significance as to what will happen on 16 September 2025 when Malawi votes for a new president.

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