With George Kasakula:
At Comesa Hall in Blantyre, where presidential candidates submitted nomination papers, there was drama and intrigue as Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) fulfilled this important milestone in the electoral calendar as we slowly inch towards ‘Judgement Day’.
By now, the secret is finally out and we know who will accompany who on which ticket.
It was no brainer as we knew all along that Malawi Congress Party president Lazarus Chakwera already picked Muhammed Sidik Mia as running mate. As such, there was no news when he brought him to Comesa to present their nomination papers on the first day.
On the second day, it was the turn of People’s Party’s Joyce Banda, who brought technocrat Jerry Jana as her running mate after going through the drama of an aborted alliance with UTM.
On the third day, UTM’s Saulos Chilima announced to the nation, through the nomination process at Comesa, that he had fallen for Michael Usi as his running mate
Fourth day was the turn of United Democratic Front (UDF), whose nomination process was marred by reports of a possible alliance with DPP but, on the day, Atupele Muluzi pulled a surprise by bringing on board Alliance for Democracy (Aford)’s Frank Mwenifumbo as running mate.
Then, on the final day in the afternoon, President Peter Mutharika surprised even his own party when he picked a little-known Member of Parliament and Cabinet minister from Ntcheu North East, Overton Chimulirenji, as his running mate on May 21.
The ultimate judgement of whether the five top presidential candidates have hit or missed the target in picking running mates to bring them votes and re-invigorate their ticket will be passed by Malawians on May 21, when they choose the pair that will govern this nation for the next five years.
However, I cannot help to say the President will struggle to justify his choice to the nation, as he has picked a little-known man, with no political capital, as a possible vice-president and his successor, if anything happens to him.
That is why he spent the better part of his five-minute speech, that Friday afternoon at Comesa, telling us why he has picked Chimulirenji “from Ntcheu and is a Cabinet minister, a man of high integrity, wise, loyal, mature and team player. He understands the roles of a vice-president of a country”.
It is clear that the President is so traumatised with the catastrophic end of his relationship with Chilima that he was obsessed with choosing a running mate who is the polar opposite to the Vice-President so that he could avoid another political debacle and crisis in the government should Malawians retain him to power come May 21.
In the end, he has brought despondency in his own party as the gloomy faces of his Cabinet in that Comesa Hall could testify that day. Their body language could not hide their grumpiness, utter revulsion and disappointment.
The challenge now is that he has a party that has powerhouses that are disappointed and do not understand his decision to pick this unknown, difficult-to-sell name called Chimulirenji.
Differentiate this with Chakwera, who named his running mate well in advance— which had its own advantage in that any problems were dealt with at party level in good time.
There were no surprises or bad publicity when they presented their papers on that Monday as we all concentrated on the speech Chakwera made and the razzmatazz of the function.
It is a 50-50 safe choice that will either get them Malawians’ nod or not, based on their promises and not necessarily on the reputational weakness of the pair.
Usi has two personas which are that of an actor in Tikuferanji and NGO guru as well as a successful political and social activist.
His pairing with Chilima is projecting modernity, youthfulness and change that we all desire.
But while the youth that clamour for change would welcome the pair as a breath of fresh air, there are voters that might be suspicious of the rashness of youth that would be weary to put their money on the pair. Such people may feel that the pair is too dangerous to be left with the reins of power, which could result in uncomfortable shake-up of the system.
For Joyce Banda and Atupele, there was little to write home about as their participation in this process was blighted by too much talk of alliances and, therefore, projecting themselves as kingmakers.
Their choices of running mates did not really cause much consternation although eyebrows were raised on Atupele naming Mwenifumbo who belongs to Aford, a different party from UDF.
The other issue for Atupele is whether he will remain Minister for Health in the next three months and actively campaign against his boss which, in my view, is untenable.
He is well aware of this and that is why he spent a better part of his five-minute speech at Comesa preaching to us that it is possible to belong to two different parties but still work together as he has been doing for the past five years.
But his present challenge is that he now must take on his boss for the top job or risk campaigning for him if he says it was all rosy during the past five years, when the nation knows it was not.
I cannot write about the nomination process without mentioning the fact that it attracted other candidates apart from the top five.
These provided the dramatic side of things as some of them such as Ras Chikomeni David Chirwa, Smart Swira and Damiano Ganiza were returned for not fulfilling the legal requirements such as payment of K2 million nomination fees, provision of running mate and even have 10 nominees for each district
Serious debate that takes cognizance of the right of every Malawian above 35 years of age to run for presidency while at the same time calling for recognition of the importance of the presidency to the nation must take place.
Should only serious-minded Malawians be allowed to even start the process of running for presidency so we do not waste time with outright jokers, some of whom we were horrified to see at Comesa that week?
My view is that while fantasising, romanticising and being academic on public matters is the way to go for a live democratic nation like ours, we must also know that a lot is at stake when we are choosing a president and it is serious business because the holder is like a pilot and you do not want crackpots and nuts in the cockpit to fly you.
In the final analysis, Malawians will certainly make the final decision on which pair they will pick for president and vice-president come May 21 2019, which is just under three months from now.
That said, the choice of running mate is essential and, as we debate the pairs, let us consider which pair