Former first lady Calista Mutharika has opened a succession debate in DPP. She has openly challenged President Peter Mutharika to relinquish power and let his vice, the youthful Saulos Chilima, stand as a presidential candidate for Democratic People’s Party (DPP) in the 2019 tripartite elections. Calista says at 80 Mutharika will be too old to govern effectively.
Her remarks has not only triggered a debate within the DPP, but she has incurred the wrath of DPP zealots including fellow women who have denounced her and baying for her blood. Such reaction is not new or strange in Malawi.
Individuals who challenge or criticize political leaders within the party endure all forms of insults and branded all sorts of names and are punished in various forms including suspension and expulsion. This is one reason some individuals gravitate to other political parties or form their own political parties.
Lack of intra party democracy is one the major weaknesses of Malawian political parties. They do not tolerate dissenting views within the party or certain issues to be challenged. UDF, DPP, Aford, MCP and PP all suffer from this political disease.
For example, MCP expelled its vice president Richard Msowoya and others because they challenged Lazarus Chakwera’s style of leadership. Bakili Muluzi ensured that his son Atupele Muluzi takes over the UDF presidency from him. This led to the formation of Labour Party.
Although Malawian political parties talk about democracy they do really practice it within their parties. They can learn one or two things from the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa. ANC has no founder syndrome or “I am in charge syndrome” or “who are you to criticize the president?”. The president of the party does not take the ANC as a personal property. The party, not an individual, is supreme. Leaders follow the ethos of the party or what has been agreed by the party. Hence, they are criticised openly by party members if their conduct is below the expectation of the members.
For example, President Jacob Zuma was openly criticised by party members for his conduct and calls for him to resign were echoed within the party a few years ago after it was revealed by the public protector that he used some tax payers to upgrade his homestead in Nkandla which was an act of abuse of office. His woes were compounded by further revelations from party stalwarts and other interest groups that he was involved in corrupt relationship with the rich Gupta family which was accused of winning government and parastatals tenders through corruption and state capture.
Prominent ANC members openly piled pressure on Zuma to resign and took part in national wide anti–Zuma demonstrations organised by NGOs, opposition parties and ANC itself. The new executive committee elected in December 2017 gave him an ultimatum in February either to reign or face a vote of no confidence in parliament. Zuma resigned on 14 February. The point here is that no ANC member was victimized or expelled from the party because they criticised Zuma or called for his resignation or participated in anti-Zuma demonstrations.
When it comes to voting for national executive committee, members openly campaign for positions. In fact they form groups to contest in the election. For example, during the 2017 national party elections vice president Cyril Ramaphosa had his own faction, Nkosazana Zuma also led another faction. They freely campaigned for party positions.
After Ramaphosa won the election as ANC party president all the members came together and rallied behind the new executive. In Malawi, it is a taboo to challenge the president from within the party. Those who do that risk their lives or are insulted. Where is democracy?
Transformative leaders do not fear to embrace change or to be criticised or to be challenged by party members on any issue. Calista or any other member of the party should not victimized for expressing their views that Chilima should replace the aged Mutharika. DPP should openly allow its members to discuss the succession debate without threatening its members. Freedom of expression is good for democracy and should jealously be safeguarded
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