“Today, Chakwera has joined hands with People’s Party (PP) and Aford— yes, the same PP which bequeathed to us cashgate which Chakwera railed against—together crisscrossing the country to rally the nation against the underperforming and increasingly autocratic rule of APM.”
Lazarus Chakwera—one time preacher, onetime game changer who failed to change the fortunes of his party in the last national polls, other than generating excitement with his breath of fresh air and charisma—is an interesting man.
Cynics quickly dismiss the former Christian Evangelist as a talker without substance; blessed with Barack Obama-styled oratory but without the necessary substance and prerequisite experience for national office.
Seodi White, an activist and perceived critic, even went as far as deranging what she terms Chakwera’s “phony American accent”.
Those who backs “Dr Laz”, though, as some Malawi Congress Party faithful fondly calls him, not only sees a man ready to govern but a man with the moral high ground needed to rule the country after decades of misrule, stagnation and a parasitic corrupt system of patronage.
It was Blessings Chimsinga, an associate professor in political science at Chancellor College, who first called Chakwera the game changer, immediately after winning the MCP presidency, defeating, among others, former Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo at a convention held at Natural Resources College.
“It is not as easy as people are putting it,” said Chimsinga on Chakwera’s electability.
“But let me agree, this is potentially a game changer for the elections. Reverend Chakwera is not only new on the political scene but also comes without any excessive garbage.”
Chimsinga then said the challenge posed by Chakwera’s election did not only relate to the ruling power but also other major opposition parties.
But that was then; Chakwera is no longer the excitable presidential candidate pledging to rock the establishment.
In 2019, reputable London-based think tank, Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) in its recent Malawi country outlook suggests Chakwera will struggle to realize his State House ambition.
“The MCP and its leader, Lazarus Chakwera, will campaign on a message of anti-corruption but, despite vocal attacks on the government’s record, it will struggle to offer any viable policy alternatives. Nevertheless, should an economic recovery fail to take hold prior to the polls, the MCP and Mr. Chakwera stands to gain,” adds EIU.
The report further predicts, despite political turmoil due to a runaway economy, the incumbent Peter Mutharika, riding on powers of incumbency and political system of patronage could win the elections in 2019 due to the ruling party’s popularity in the more populace southern region.
But professor Boniface Dulani, another eminent political scientist based at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College who is also a researcher for the renowned-pollster, Afrobarometer, cautions against hushed predictions.
He says the political reality can quickly change between now and 2019 but agrees its only a safe bait to pick the incumbent as the likely winner.
“The last report I saw by the EIU before last elections in 2104 predicted then president, Joyce Banda, will win and this suggest that things can always change. We are assuming a lot of things by concluding that the DPP will win, in politics things can change so quickly,” adds Dulani.
Chakwera is now a two-year occupant of the Leader of Opposition (LOP) office run by taxpayer after Peter Mutharika controversially beat him to State House after a highly contentious vote marred by accusations of rigging and other irregularities.
So controversial was the vote that it was only validated by the High Court on technicality after ordering a recount as demanded by the opposition albeit without extending the mandatory recount period which had already expired.
With MCP supporters crying blue murder, fearing the vote had been stolen from their noses, Chakwera displayed the statesmanship expected of his ilk to cool down his party’s tempers while simultaneously carrying out his own dignified protest of the election management.
Apart from a comfy executive office at the parliament building and LOP salary, Chakwera is now surrounded by an army of bodyguards, two of them paid for by the taxpayer.
He enjoys traveling in a top of the range Toyota TX controversially acquired last year alongside those of other senior government officials including Speaker of Parliament, Inspector General of Police, the Attorney General and others, at a time Malawi was reeling from economic hardships.
Today, Mr. Chakwera, the game changer and the outsider is one of them—part of the loathed political establishment that has done little to upstage the woes affecting the majority of Malawi’s 17 million population.
Everywhere he goes, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president cannot even push a door for himself, his bodyguards have been caught up in the euphoria of power and the need to project it, and cannot accept that he push a door himself.
If not in a TX, he travels in a posh Hummer purchased for the party by an unidentified party sponsor. The façade of political innocence is fast dropping.
As he faced a critical election two years ago, Dr Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera made a decision that defined his leadership style and his views. The new political bloom faced a question on who should be his running mate, a question with potential consequences on the forthcoming elections.
Pragmatics urged him to form an alliance by picking an influential politician, either from within the party or outside, especially from the populous southern region who could swing some votes to the oldest political establishment.
The caveat was that, the potential names included recycled politicians who were part of the old establishment, presided over years of stagnation and possibly, soiled with corruption.
Idealists, on the other hand, urged him to stick to his equally idealistic change theme and honour the party’s intra democracy credentials by picking his own party vice president.
Today, Chakwera has joined hands with People’s Party (PP) and Aford— yes, the same PP which bequeathed to us cashgate which Chakwera railed against—together crisscrossing the country to rally the nation against the under-performing and increasingly autocratic rule of APM.
The marriage of convenience has also extended to parliament where the two parties are also battling the minority DPP government.
And with the general elections lurking in 2019, Chakwera is left pondering over how far he should go in partnering PP fully aware doing so means a compromise to his ethos and it smacks desperation for a party that was last in power some two decades ago.
It’s a prospect that poses a few challenges of its own especially on how to sell his message while campaigning alongside an elite that just a few years ago was ejected from power primarily due to corruption.
Ironically, in one of the cashgate cases—where a scores of civil servants, politicians and unscrupulous businesspersons are on trial, accused of a plunder of over K24 billion of taxpayer funds, allegations have surfaced that PP during the convention that swept Chakwera to power, had attempted to rig the polls using cashgate funds.
According to Pika Manondo, an auditor who once on government payroll but now on trial for his role in the heist, the former ruling party laundered cash—cashgate proceeds—to support the then MCP czar John Tembo so that he could win the convention.
The ageing Tembo had lost the presidential elections twice before and was largely seen as a less potent threat to the then ruling party due to his increasingly unpopularity across the country unlike Chakwera, Munlo and other challengers.
It’s choice time again. This time moral choices must be made in a different context of a leader under pressure to finally end the country’s oldest political establishment’s prolonged stint outside power.