By Rebecca Mtalimanja Mkandawire
Some officials are demanding that former President, Arthur Peter Mutharika or ‘APM’, be the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate in the 2025 presidential election. DPP Regional Governor for the South, Charles Mchacha is championing the campaign for APM’s candidature against intense calls from other sections of the party for APM to step aside and give the party some breath of fresh air after his defeat at the 23 June, 2020 fresh presidential election.
The fresh presidential election followed a Constitutional Court’s annulment of the May 2019 presidential election. Peter Mutharika was the first respondent in the election case at the Constitutional Court, which he lost together with co-respondent, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC).
The five Constitutional Court judges had punched a stinging blow to Peter Mutharika’s political reputation and that of the DPP. No question, the DPP took a serious image beating from the court case ruling and the subsequent fresh presidential election in 2020, which Dr. Lazarus Chakwera of the Tonse Alliance comfortably won against Peter Mutharika.
According to various expert analyses, the former President was booted out of power because many Malawians were tired of DPP regime’s worsening governance record. Under his presidency and the DPP regime, corruption, theft, tax-evasion, money laundering and murders of perceived enemies of the regime were the order of the day.
Peter Mutharika is considered arguably the worst President that Malawi ever had. He is famous for being aloof and disconnected from the common Malawian. His oratory skills leave a lot to be desired, which many Malawians make fun of, particularly on social media platforms. With such negative attributes, it is surprising that Mchacha and a few youngsters masquerading as politicians on various social media platforms, are agitating for the return of the 83-year-old Peter Mutharika.
SERIOUS IMAGE FALLOUT
Peter Mutharika’s defeat in 2020 posed a serious image fallout to the DPP and the party required a serious image cleansing exercise to stand any chance of winning future elections. Most DPP members have been agitating for the retirement of Peter Mutharika to effectively deal with the image battering and rebrand the party in preparation for the next election in 2025.
But since he was shown the government exit door, Peter Mutharika himself has refused to step aside, claiming he never lost and that he was a victim of some “judicial coup” because the fresh election was sanctioned by the courts in connivance with now President of the Republic Chakwera and partners.
Whatever the precise intentions for clinging to the DPP leadership are, there is little doubt that Peter Mutharika is a spent political force. He is not only old but he is also too old to be the party’s presidential candidate in the next election. Now is the time that Peter Mutharika and his stooges acknowledged the reality that politics is now beyond him and that the more he clings on to the DPP leadership and fight against his perceived enemies within the party, the more he risks further reputational damage. With his evident governance failures when he was President of the country and at his old age, it would be very difficult if not impossible for Peter Mutharika to convince Malawians otherwise.
Politics may be addictive, so they say. But being an elderly and educated person, as well as being a United States of America (USA) Green Card holder, Peter Mutharika should have been the first person to realize that leaving the political stage early enough would save him the embarrassment of being ‘forced’ out of politics.
So far, the government of President Chakwera has been very lenient with the former President by not subjecting him to any serious criminal investigation despite many allegations of wrong-doing. It would, therefore, be good judgement on the part of Peter Mutharika to quietly go into retirement rather than clinging on to active politics.
Peter Mutharika should borrow a leaf from Bakili Muluzi who is happily enjoying life in retirement, without looking over his shoulders about politics. On 24 August, 2021, Hakainde Hichilema became the seventh President of the Republic of Zambia. There was a smooth handover of power in Zambia and the outgoing President Edgar Chagwa Lungu immediately announced his retirement from politics. What else is APM looking in active politics at such an advanced age?
Clinging to the party presidency and banging tables in anger against perceived enemies within the DPP is not the best choice for an aging law professor who should instead be spending quality time with his grandchildren.
Peter Mutharika has no place in the current political space. He lost an election because Malawians did not want him to continue as Head of State. Today, the DPP is heavily divided because of APM’s lack of leadership skills. Peter Mutharika is now a recluse, shackled in Mangochi, very far away from the party’s southern region stronghold.
It is a general consensus among political pundits and analysts that the DPP is suffering its lowest moment right now regarding its political image because of APM. When the DPP lost government power, it required some fresh mind to spearhead a robust marketing campaign and to re-energize its grassroots structures in readiness for future elections and not Peter Mutharika who wants to manage party affairs by remote control.
Peter Mutharika is a failed leader who has brought divisions in the DPP. The party needs someone who can purify its systems; a unifying figure who will embrace all leaders and members, not someone like Peter Mutharika who supports certain individuals aspiring for top leadership positions in the party against others.
Indeed, it is a general consensus that the DPP must put its act together now if it wants to stand any chance of reclaiming its lost political glory. However, that can only happen if and when Peter Mutharika steps aside. He is a bad apple and his presence does not help the DPP to salvage the little sympathy that was left after 23 June, 2020.
Decision making lies at the heart of every political leader’s personal and organization’s life. A decision that a leader makes has far-reaching consequences on the people they lead. The DPP finds itself in the opposition today because of some flawed decisions that Peter Mutharika made when he was in power. For example, his decision to send the Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda into early retirement when the law was not in favour of such an action seriously haunted him. That decision cost him millions of Malawi Kwacha in both legal fees and costs.
Another flawed decision was his choice of the politically little known and inadequately educated Everton Chimulirenji as his presidential running-mate in 2019, snubbing all possible and qualified candidates in the DPP.
Following the backlash that accompanied Chimulirenji’s choice, APM dumped him and ran with Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF) during the fresh presidential poll in 2020, a decision that also sparked controversy and divisions within the party ranks and outside.
Some quarters say the former President is ‘captured’ by his wife and the former First Lady Gertrude Mutharika, who allegedly makes crucial political and other decisions on his behalf. But others have suggested that Peter Mutharika also suffers from poor selection of close advisors who have led him into making some of his most unpopular decisions.
The party’s unpopular Administrative Secretary, Francis Mphepo, is one of such advisors. In 2018, a few months before the elections, the old and tired Francis Mphepo was recorded insulting people from the northern region of the country as ungrateful and not deserving any development, seriously affecting APM’s popularity in the north.
Indeed, Peter Mutharika is disconnected from local politics despite having returned home about over a decade ago from years in exile in the United States. If he was live to the realities of Malawian politics, APM could have known that people like Francis Mphepo cannot be trusted.
If Gertrude Mutharika and Mphepo were good advisors, they should have advised Peter Mutharika to retire from active politics because that is the wisest thing to now and not in 2023 or 2025.