Malawi: Mutharika Wants Chimulirenji Not to Emulate the Way of Failed VPs Before Him

18 September 2019

Since the advent of multiparty democracy in Malawi in 1994, the relationship between President and vice has always not been good. Bakili Muluzi was the first multiparty President in 1994. He served his constitutional two five-year terms and paved way (after an unsuccessful third term bid) for the late Bingu wa Mutharika in 2004. Halfway through his second term in 2012, Mutharika (Bingu) died in office and his estranged vice, Joyce Banda, succeeded him as provide for in the Republican Constitution.

Malawi vice president, Evertone Chimulirenji, replaced Saulos Chilima, who finished third in the May 21, 2019 elections.

Joyce Banda was voted out of office in 2014 presidential polls. Malawians opted for Peter Mutharika, instead. Mutharika went on to win a second term in May 2019.

Muluzi had Justin Malewezi as his Vice President; Bingu had Cassim Chilumpha during his first term and opted for a woman, Joyce Banda, in his second term. During the brief period Banda was Head of State, she had appointed Khumbo Kachali as her Vice President. In his first term from 2014, Peter Mutharika worked with Saulos Klaus Chilima as Vice and later in 2019, he chose the little known Everton Chimulirenji to be Vice President.

All the presidents and vice presidents have ended up becoming enemies within their terms but more especially towards the end of their terms of office.

It seems the underlying cause of these fallouts has been suspicion, whether real or imagined, by the Head of State that their vice has presidential ambitions, especially when the Constitution provides that in case of death or incapacitation of the President, the Vice President takes over the mantle. So, Vice Presidents are always viewed as plotting behind the scenes to topple to take over power.

However, the problem is exacerbated by the tendency of Vice Presidents to grow wings; becoming increasingly egoistic to the level where they actually forget that they were merely handpicked by the President to be running mate during elections. Indeed, Vice Presidents show signs that they no longer want to be 'captives' to the President's whims.

A case in point is that of Saulos Klaus Chilima who was a political novice in 2014 when Peter Mutharika defied all criticism and chose the private sector executive to be his running mate. The duo went on to win the presidential polls but barely halfway through their term, signs of animosity emerged.

The political grapevine had it that Chilima was planning to oust President Mutharika and become the governing DPP's torchbearer in the 2019 elections. He was alleged to have been forming parallel party structures through which to achieve his goal.

On April 5, 2018, Callista Mutharika, former First Lady and late President Bingu wa Mutharika's widow, stunned Malawians and the world when she publicly threw her weight behind Chilima as a suitable presidential candidate for the ruling DPP President Mutharika. Callista Mutharika said that President Mutharika was advanced in age and that Chilima is youthful and energetic to carry the party to greater heights and stir it to victory during the May 21, 2019 tripartite elections.

Callista Mutharika's sentiments had created divisions within the ruling party, with some few senior members of the party openly supporting the proposed Chilima candidature while many others have said they want the President to continue.

But the core DPP membership could not have any of Chilima's machinations. They strongly rallied behind APM, as he is fondly referred to by the DPP faithful. This forced Chilima announce he was withdrawing his DPP membership and later formed and registered his own political party, UTM.

Chilima and UTM contested in the last May's polls. In the presidential contest, Chilima came third behind the incumbent President Mutharika and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential candidate, Lazarus Chakwera. In the parliamentary contest, UTM only miserably managed only four (4) seats out of 193.

Fast forward, September 8, 2019, President Mutharika seemingly went to town on his 'quiet and disciplined' Vice President, Everton Herbert Chimulirenji. At a public political rally held in Nsanje, President Mutharika "reminded the VP that he was a mere Vice President and not the President".

As expected, there have been various interpretations of the President's sentiments. Some people have accused the President of undermining and demeaning the VP in public; attempting to prevent him from harboring any leadership ambitions because, apparently the President has his own favorite candidates. They include Ben Phiri, Henry Mussa, Brown Mpinganjira, Kondwani Nankhumwa, Nicholas Dausi, Joseph Mwanamveka, Bright Msaka and Dalitso Kabambe. Others allege that the VP is indeed building his own political momentum ahead of 2024 and that he, like Chilima, is creating parallel party structures to support his 2024 bid.

The President is serving his second and final term. It is obvious he has no business protecting his position now from an ambitious VP. There was no need to read too much into the President's sentiments about the role of the VP. Actually, that was not the first time he has made such an observation.

When President Mutharika and VP Chimulirenji presented their nomination papers to the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) in February ahead of the polls in May, he made similar sentiments.

The sentiments in Nsanje on that Sunday September morning were merely a fatherly and friendly advice to VP Chimulirenji to prevent him from falling in the typical path of former Vice Presidents before him. President Mutharika is a complete statesman and admirably experienced at leadership. Typical of a good leader, President Mutharika reminded the Vice President that his is a delegated office.

It was President Mutharika's selfless gesture to ensure that the VP does not fall in the typical trap of assuming that 'he has arrived' and that he was power onto himself.

APM duly commended the VP for representing him (APM) and the nation well in Tanzania and Japan at SADC and TICAD summits, respectively.

The President manifestly values the contribution that VP Chimulirenji makes as Vice President of the Republic and would want to encourage him to remain in that position and sustain the positive relationship that the two have enjoyed so far, with the common objective of uplifting Malawians out of the jaws of poverty. APM obviously wants VP Chimulirenji to last in that office and not to emulate the way of failed Vice Presidents before him.

As stated above, Chilima was comfortable in that same VP position and had the whole future before him. However, he grew big-headed, thinking that he can take over government based on what a few friends told him about power. Today, he is just a mere commoner, walking in the sidewalk of power and desperately trying to attract attention to no avail!

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