The Chronicle (Lilongwe)

Malawi: Bakili Muluzi Snubs Thomson Take-Over

Lilongwe — United Democratic Front (UDF) Chairperson Bakili Muluzi once again imposed his will on the party by snubbing a unanimous verdict by the party's National Executive Committee (NEC) that senior NEC member Harry Thomson take over the chairmanship of the party. Instead, he imposed Vice President Cassim Chilumpha as the acting chairperson, The Chronicle has established.

The verdict, which was passed through a voting process, was reached when Thomson scooped more votes than Chilumpha and the third contestant, Kaphwiti Banda during the party's NEC meeting that was chaired by Bakili Muluzi himself, who is also the former head of state.

A highly confidential source in the UDF disclosed to The Chronicle that the UDF meet ended prematurely because of Muluzi's refusal to endorse Thomson who appears to be more popular that Chilumpha. "We agreed to elect an interim chairperson who would steer the party from now, up to the time that we conduct our convention because we were considering the fact that Muluzi indicated he would soon retire from active politics and was also going to Britain on holiday," said the source.

The party was forced to take the action after six former SADC heads of state, led by the former South African President Nelson Mandela urged Muluzi to leave local partisan politics and join regional peace mediation efforts. Additionally, Muluzi's absence from Malawi on medical grounds would necessitate that another leaders be mandated to hold the position, albeit in an acting capacity.

Our source disclosed that Muluzi argued during the NEC meeting that he would not take Thomson to be the Interim Chairperson because his allegiance to the party was not steady. He then opted for Chilumpha to hold the position, whom he said has remained very loyal to the party and its leadership.

NEC members who attended the meeting confirmed this development in separate interviews.

UDF spokesperson Sam Mpasu confirmed that Harry Thomson, Kaphwiti Banda and Cassim Chilumpha were the three nominated people who contested for the post of the Acting Chairperson but was quick to quash reports that Thomson emerged the winner. He said that the NEC decided that Chilumpha is to be Acting Chairperson on the basis that he is the State Vice President. "I can confirm to you that it is not true that Thomson won the election but his name and that of Kaphwiti Banda were proposed for the post. The NEC decided to make Chilumpha Acting Chairperson for the party," said Mpasu.

In a related development, the National Executive member for UDF Brown Mpinganjira said in an interview last week that some top politicians in the party are imposing decisions on party members, a thing he said is not healthy for Malawi's democracy.

He said, it does not mean that he intends to quit the UDF if he expresses his opinion openly but he insisted he is only adding input in the form of constructive criticism intended at rebuilding the party.

He insisted that each party must have some reformers. "That is why I will tell you the truth; there are valid reasons why people are defecting from the party. It means there is something wrong and we must not burry our heads in the sand. We need to accept the problems and map an effective way forward that disregards other party official's wishes, who are fond of imposing views and decisions on the people." The UDF is known to be a party that encouraged the exploitation of the people by imposing candidates on them. This brought on the practice of independents, which often beat the party's candidate in the elections.

Mpinganjira intimated that the UDF has more than sufficient time to strategise in readiness for the 2009 general elections and win, especially if the propensity to be undemocratic is addressed.

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