BY MIKE CHIPALASA
17:18:47 - 19 March 2008
United Democratic Front (UDF) chairman Bakili Muluzi is reportedly furious with some party members who are also delegates to the forthcoming convention for pending their signatures to the nomination form of the only other presidential contender and UDF taskforce leader Nordeen Uladi.
Muluzi arrived in the country on Sunday from United Kingdom after routine medical check-up and warned that President Bingu wa Mutharika would face stiff opposition ahead of the 2009 presidential polls once the UDF endorses him as its candidate.
The latest development happened on Monday when Muluzi is said to have grabbed a party vehicle from a Mr Kudontoni, who is UDF deputy Central Region governor on allegations that he was supporting Uladi.
According to top-level sources in UDF, Muluzi believes Uladi is being sent by Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha, who is seen as one of the presidential challengers to act on his behalf.
But Uladi Tuesday said it was wrong for Muluzi to believe that all his efforts were sponsored by Chilumpha, saying lack of tolerance and trust in UDF is what was killing the party.
“What is the problem with Muluzi? I think this is now personal hatred against the Vice-President,” said Uladi in a telephone interview.
UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala Tuesday confirmed Kudontoni’s official vehicle was impounded but refuted reports that it was Muluzi on Muluzi’s instructions.
Apart from quarterly parliamentary funding, Muluzi is regarded as the sole financier of the party and is said to be owner of the all party assets.
“No, it’s not rue that Muluzi took away the vehicle. How could this be because by then Muluzi was airborne? I just hear that the vehicle [of Kudontoni) was taken away three days ago and when did Muluzi come back?” said Makwangwala.
Quizzed on who grabbed Kudontoni’s official vehicle and for what reason, Makwangwala said he was also in the dark.
However, we could not contact Kudontoni yesterday despite numerous attempts at the party’s secretariat and other party officials in the Central Region to get his contacts.
A source close to Muluzi confided in The Daily Times on Monday evening that Muluzi summoned Kudontoni to his BCA residence and censured him for allowing delegates to sign Uladi’s form.
According to the source, Kudontoni, a former MP in Salima, was forced to walk from Muluzi’s BCA residence and had to board a minibus back to Lilongwe.
Kudontoni is a third UDF official to have his official car confiscated by Muluzi after former Chiradzulu district governor Ackim Ntaja and another district governor from Thyolo who were forced to walk from Sanjika Palace after disagreeing with the then president for choosing Mutharika to replace him as UDF candidate in 2004.
“There is now witch-hunting in UDF following signatures that UDF supporters appended on Uladi’s form. Muluzi wants to track down all those who signed Uladi’s form, which he believes Uladi is circulating for Chilumpha,” said the source.
“Muluzi claims to be democratic but what he is doing is totally different from what he says, is this democracy? UDF is hypocritical. This is what people like Sam Mpasu were fighting against and we all thought Mpasu is just troublesome, look now.”
In Lilongwe, UDF district governor, a Mr Mazengera, and the party’s official Mayi Fulawo are also said to have been ridiculed and stripped off their positions in the party for allegedly signing Uladi’s form, a claim Makwangwala dismissed.
Following the development, the source said, UDF would hold a National Executive Committee (Nec) meeting today at 9 am at BCA to, among other things, scrutinise and take a position on party members who signed Uladi’s form.
“When you fight in the family with your wife, do you go out and say we are fighting instead of solving that fight between yourselves? Now, you expect us to tell you about our problems before we have solved them on our own? About the Nec meeting, we will tell you when it happens, why do you seem to be in a hurry?” said Makwangwala while laughing.
Meanwhile, Uladi says he has so far solicited 680 signatures, 400 more than the legal requirement for him to be accepted as a contender at the party’s polls.
He said the signatures have been collected from across the country, adding that his sympathisers were still in the Northern Region collecting additional signatures.
Fired UDF spokesman Mpasu told the media two weeks ago that he was going to collect his nomination form to contest with the two on presidency once the party sets a date for the convention.
Mpasu is one of the four presidential hopefuls alongside Chilumpha, Brown Mpinganjira and Friday Jumbe.
Mpasu, Chilumpha and Jumbe allegedly had a secret meeting last month at the Vice-President’s Mudi Residence with the UDF taskforce members to strategise on how to handle the issue of contesting at the convention.
Jumbe, however, said he would not contest for the presidency as long as Muluzi competes for the same post, saying he wanted to respect the former president.
But the position of Chilumpha remains cloudy and he has repeatedly refused to comment on the matter although some party officials say he is interested to challenge Muluzi.
However, according to some UDF taskforce members, Chilumpha would only collect the nomination forms once UDF sets a date for the convention, a position Mpasu shares.
Disagreements started in UDF when Muluzi craved for a presidential comeback for the 2009 polls, especially when he forced other potential hopefuls like Jumbe, Mpasu and Mpinganjira to bow out.
Muluzi already canvassed support from delegates to the convention in order to make him an automatic president of the party to pave way for him to lead the party in next year’s general elections.
Already, all UDF’s four political regions have assured him of their support at the convention yet to be rescheduled after it was cancelled on December 19, 2007.
Muluzi wants to contest again for the presidency to remove Mutharika, who he accuses of being ungrateful after he personally catapulted him to the coveted office in 2004.
The Special Law Commission in its draft report, which is currently at cabinet level, said Muluzi as former president who served his two consecutive five year terms, was ineligible to bounce back as president.
The country’s constitution under section 83 (3) bars former presidents from crawling back into State House after serving a maximum of two consecutive terms in office.
Lawyers are, however, divided over the matter with others arguing section 83(3) of the Constitution was ambiguous and open for debate.
Muluzi was Malawi’s first democratic president between 1994 and 2004, a regime analysts say was a lost decade as it was characterised by allegations of reckless economic plunder and stinking corruption.
He left office after he failed by a whisker to push for third and open terms before he single-handedly handpicked Mutharika to represent the party during the 2004 general elections at the expense of other senior members in the party.