Inside the Running Mate Question for the 2019

Elections: DPP’s Triple Option

By Voice of Micah

It is now a year and a couple of months before Malawi goes to the next polls. Naturally, drastic developments are expected. On 20th Febuary, 2018, an election calendar was launched, inadvertently inaugurating the campaign. Already a cross-section of stakeholders are on the ground realigning hoping to secure their strategic interests. It is a gestation period for the nation with all hopes pinned on the midwifery skills of the electoral commission. Amongst the most crucial decisions being awaited for, understandably with anxiety, concern presidential running mates. Despite the current wrangles, the dust seems to be gradually settling for the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). There is a growing shift of attention away from Richard Msowoya in favor of Sidik Mia for that position.

For now, the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the People’s Party (PP) are clearly on the margins of the race for the forthcoming electoral show. The acolyte position of running mate appears to be the consolation price the UDF is now eagerly aspiring for. Undoubtedly it is very crucial for good reasons. Essentially this is the state president in waiting in case of any eventuality. Events surrounding the Bingu-Joyce Banda dramatic succession in 2012 are still fresh in our mind. The importance of this position lies in our history of transition from one party to multiparty system of government in the early 90s. 

The 1993 referendum had shown deep divisions along regional lines. The UDF with Muluzi evolved around the southern region as its electoral power base. The MCP and the Alliance for Democracy (Aford), with Banda and Chihana, both mustered the centre and the north as their respective centers of power. Thus in 1994 Malawi went to the polls a deeply divided nation along ethnic and regional lines. Somehow in an attempt to ease the divisions and thereby secure a representative vote across the nation, each party made desperate efforts to reach-out to the next most populous region. The UDF with Muluzi went on to opt for Justin Malewezi from the centre as a running mate, while Malawi Congress Party lopped in Gwanda Chakuamba from the south. Chihana of the Alliance for Democracy had Augustine Mnthambala again from the centre.

All these were frantic attempts to project a national outlook principally for purposes of securing the required vote from across the length and breadth of the country. Since then this has become an established electoral pattern with just one exception in 2009 where the late Bingu wa Mutharika had Joyce Banda, a fellow southerner, as running mate. Currently, close observation suggests that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is likely to be rocked by this question more than any other party unless careful decisions are made in time. For sure the party has several options, and coincidently, it is precisely this diversity that poses risks of frustrations, resentment and discontent among sections of its ranks and files, including its long time ally, the UDF.

DPP’s running mate triple option

To begin with, the DPP is in a subtle fix on the running mate question. Three options are available, but each has its own notable costs.  The first option is maintaining the status quo. This means retaining Saulos Chilima for the 2019 elections. There are tangible benefits for this option. Chilima is still an inspiration to youthful voters and continues to enjoy considerable trust and confidence from the Catholic hierarchy, one of the key players in national elections in Malawi. He is positively rated especially now that only a handful of national political leaders can genuinely claim an aura of innocence in as far as corruption is concerned. In the DPP, he is the only one, perhaps, who seems to have the credentials and presents to the world, that dream of transformative leadership.

The main challenge that he faces is nothing else but resistance from within and the strong underlying belief that leadership for the DPP should derive from nowhere else than the south. Next to this challenge is the perceived innocence in as far as corruption is concerned. The party hierarchy and stewards are unlikely to trust him with their safety and security in the long run. He does not seem to have a track record that guarantees them protection from potential investigation and prosecution over allegations of corruption and embezzlement. It is just like the Muluzi-Malewezi scenario in and around 2004. Thus from within the party hierarchy and wider membership his candidature stands on very fragile grounds especially for reasons that this would be the final term for Peter. Given a second term as vice state president could make Chilima well embedded in the party and therefore not easy to dislodge for the 2024.  

In the event that DPP defies all odds and retains Chilima, then there is another challenge. Its long time partner, UDF would be less likely to be highly motivated and thereby provide the DPP with the much needed vote from its power base, the eastern region. Understandably, the UDF and its power base could feel cheated and at most used in the process of consolidating the DPP administration since 2014 elections.

Then there is also the possibility that DPP could pull out a last minute surprise card by opting for neither Atupele nor Chilima. A completely different person could be brought on board for the position. Rumours about Bright Msaka being favored for the position seem to make a little sense here. This is a very possible scenario especially if we consider DPP plans for 2024. Perhaps the reasons that necessitated the choice of Chilima no longer exist given that now DPP is in government.

If Peter manages to secure a second term in 2019, this option has every potential to ensure a relatively smooth transition plan. The next five years as vice president could be a suitable period for that person to prepare a takeover from Peter. The South African model could be worthy looking at. This option has the potential to energize the party in the sense that both Atupele and Chilima are now relatively familiar figures in the public eye in terms of their leadership strengths and constraints. With Atupele and Chilima out of the race, there could be less pressure on the DPP in terms of presumed loss of support given the fact that the two are unlikely to forge an alliance against the DPP. For sure UDF and Atupele could be the most bruised for reasons that, just as it was in 2009, there could be no time to rebuild himself as a formidable force and the UDF for the 2019 elections.

Therefore, of the three options, Atupele seems to be the most probable in terms of capacity to bring a tangible vote for the DPP in 2019. Perhaps unlike Chilima and any other option we can imagine at this point in time, Atupele has appeal to a clear electoral constituency taking into account politics of ethnicity and religious flavor. Of course the option for Atupele could create an imperative for the DPP to minimize the potential damage resulting from the sidelining of Chilima.

Quite crucial would be to anticipate the possible course of action he could take. Forming a political party or something along those lines sounds logical, but perhaps out of tune with the current mood in the country. It could be easy, theoretically to pair with a few disgruntled individuals from parties like MCP and PP and go on to contest for the presidency. But without careful planning this could be extremely suicidal politically. For now the political terrain does not seem conducive enough for such an option. Besides apart from the personal liabilities that are not known to the public but are better served under his current status, Chilima would require extra care to ensure the security of his benefits in long term once out of office.

Coming back to Atupele, there is a school of thought that has serious doubts as to whether he is his own man. The growing perception is that he is just a political extension of the big father who is always acting from behind primarily for his own interests. However, for now let us see how strategically this could be worked out in circumventing key obstacles in the process for him to clinch the running mate mantle and subsequently attain the first vice presidency in the event of Peter securing the second term in 2019.

The republican constitution

Discussion on running mate has constitutional implications in the long run. Therefore, it is worthy looking at this as well. There is a direct link between the running mate and the first vice president. Section 80 ss.4 states that the first vice president shall be elected concurrently with the president. It further says that the name of the candidate for the first vice president shall appear on the same ballot paper as the name of the presidential candidate who nominated him.

For the second vice president, under ss. 5b of section 80, it is by presidential appointment and it is from another party than that of the president. Crucially, there are very clear differences between the two offices. The first vice president is a co-elected under sect. 80, ss4; has a right of succession under section 83, ss.4, and can be removed from office only by impeachment. For the second vice president, he or she is a presidential appointee under section.80 ss.5, has no right of succession, and can be removed by the president under section.86, ss.3.  Under section 80, ss.5b, the constitution explicitly states that the second vice president shall be from another party than that of the president.

Now the key point here is that the spirit of sections 80 ss.4 and ss5b, which establish the offices of the first and second vice president, respectively, clearly shows that the first vice president, and not the running mate, shall come from the same party as the president. The constitution ends here. Where it alludes to the running mate under section 80, ss.3, and 4, it is only to do with the declaration by the presidential candidate on who shall be the first vice president if elected at the time of his or her nomination, and the appearance of both on the same ballot paper.

While the spirit of the law is clear that the first vice president shall come from the same party as the president (sect.80, ss 5b), there is no explicit or implicit reference to the question of running mate. Hence practically he or she can be drawn from either within the party of the president or from elsewhere. The MCP-AFORD alliance in 1999 where Gwanda Chakuamba of the Malawi Congress Party went all the way and opted for Chakufwa Chihana of the Alliance for Democracy as running mate strengthens this observation.

Now, what has this to do with Atupele and the question of running mate in DPP? Well, there are those who think that for Atupele to become a running mate to Peter, either he has to resign from UDF or allow the UDF merge with DPP. But none of these options is required at all. First Atupele is free to remain with UDF as both member and president or chairman all the way to elections in 2019 just as Chihana did. No need to resign or collapse the UDF into DPP.

He can go on to freely pair-up with Peter on the same ballot paper as running mate while remaining UDF. However and here is the crux of the matter. In the event of Peter winning the 2019 elections, Atupele would have to tender immediate resignation from the UDF prior to taking the oath of office as first vice president of the Republic of Malawi. This would be a strict requirement for compliance with the spirit of section 80 ss.5b of the constitution.

The UDF could remain intact, possibly under a transitional leadership, but still maintaining a working in alliance with the DPP. Quite contrary to the proverbial saying, here one could certainly eat the cake and still have it intact. It is a very tight path to travel, but still possible and worth the risk. The issue of a merger could be a matter after 2019. Any attempts to resolve such matters before elections could have serious implications for the party structures at every level, and members of parliament. Food for thought!

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