How will Muluzi turn the tide?
March 14,2007 so, it is now official. Former President Bakili Muluzi will contest the 2009 presidential elections on a UDF ticket. Why not? Does the Constitution not allow him to do so? What with being the strongest person in UDF that can unseat President Bingu wa Mutharika! At least that is how some UDF cadres especially regional governors see things. But this is because Muluzi himself has chosen not to groom anyone to be the party’s flag carier in the next polls. Such a process would have been well underway had the party opted to go to a convention to choose a candidate.
The counterpoint to this view is that the Constitution is not everything. In the case of Muluzi’s intention to contest for the 2009 elections, legal merits must be carefully balanced with the prevailing political climate. But what does the literature justifying Muluzi’s candidature say?
Muluzi himself said last Sunday he is game if people elect him for the 2009 race. Unfortunately, he has said no more. The only person who has given an insight into Muluzi’s comeback is UDF Economic Affairs director Friday Jumbe. He was quoted by the local media last week that when Mutharika resigned from the UDF, he created confusion and misunderstanding, and put the party in total disarray especially after poaching some members from it. Jumbe has speculated that Muluzi may have bounced back against this background to rebuild the party.
Jumbe has also said Muluzi might have come back because he has not been allowed to assume the role of advisor to the State President which he wanted to play after putting Mutharika in power.
In short, Jumbe’s view is that Muluzi wants to come back because he has unfinished business to transact. This business is to rebuild the party. The question is: why does Muluzi think it is not possible to rebuild the party outside of government? One would be tempted to conclude Muluzi wants to use government resources to rebuild the UDF. If that is the reason Muluzi wants to contest for the presidency, then it is based on selfish motives. But this conclusion is drawn from what Jumbe has told us. Muluzi might say, “no, I have other reasons for coming back”. I want to argue that although Jumbe is no ordinary person in UDF and knows what he is saying, there are other strong reasons why Muluzi would do well not to risk his reputation and run for the presidency even if the supreme law of the land allows him to do so.
In 2004, Muluzi imposed Mutharika on the people. UDF has admitted that was a mistake. Both Muluzi and the party have suffered the grave consequences of that decision. By declaring that he will contest for the top job, Muluzi has, in effect, imposed himself on the people. Some UDF aspirants have already bowed out of the race following Muluzi’s move. The question now is how will he go about convincing the electorate that the move will not replicate the consequences that have cost the UDF so dearly?
In 2004, we saw how the party treated people who tried to oppose Muluzi’s choice or manner of electing a candidate. They were either dropped from the Cabinet, or incarcerated verbally and physically. Senior UDF cadres were called madeya while the party’s Young Democrats dealt with those with alternative views. More people could resign from the party now, a move that is likely to weaken UDF further.
Then there is Muluzi’s own integrity. As a former President, Muluzi should be concerned with what is best for him, what he would like to be remembered for as a former president, and how he can claim his position among the ranks of his fellow retired presidents in the region, a status that would enable him to play the role of advisor. Suppose he contests for the presidency and fails, will people respect him again?
There are more reasons Muluzi ought to seriously consider that are likely to militate against him in the crusade to return to Capital Hill.
Apart from being a good campaigner, for him to win this battle, Muluzi must also demonstrate that he can do better, economically than Mutharika. A glance at the economic indicators shows that there are clear advantages for the retention of the status quo: inflation is down to a single digit (9 percent), interest rates have gone to 20 percent enabling banks to borrow money from banks, lending institutions have written off most of the country’s external debt, there will be maize surplus this year for the second straight year. These show that Muluzi has a task of gargantuan magnitude to perform to make people listen to him.
To complete the equation in the 2009 elections, we must bring in MCP and its president John Tembo. The MCP leader won the 2004 polls. This is by UDF’s own admission in 2005. Tembo and his party are still very bitter for this, and understandably so. That is very evident from the party’s sour relationship with government since 2004. MCP will have a strong case to prove in 2009.
Add to this the fact that people vote along regional lines, which will divide the vote in the South between Mutharika and Muluzi. But going by the 2004 experience whereby Mutharika (the ruling party candidate) got substantial amounts of votes across the regions because of the strength of the public media, Muluzi is likely to emerge the weakest candidate in 2009.
All these things considered, if I had the chance of advising Muluzi on this matter, I would say the odds are firmly stuck against him