"It's shameful that the UDF party wants to take us back to the dark days,"

Mr Gwanda Chakuamba (2003)

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dictator in democrat’s robes

By James Mphande
DailyTimes - Malawi

Former president Bakili Muluzi is a man of contradictions, so
contradictory, in fact, one wonders if he reflects on his actions and
speeches. There are times when he wants to be recognised as a democrat
but this becomes questionable immediately one looks at his statements
and actions.

It is a fact, Muluzi is one -- and not the only one as others would
want us believe -- of those who fought hard for democracy through his
advocacy for multiparty politics. Muluzi cannot be wholly accredited
with bringing democracy to Malawi because if that was the case, then
the nation would have problems putting people like the Catholic
bishops, late Chakufwa Chihana and indeed numerous other Malawians in
their rightful places in as far as championing for democracy is
concerned in the country.

Muluzi will remain in Malawi’s history annals as the first
democratically elected president. His reign will also be remembered for
establishing institutions like the office of the Ombudsman, Malawi
Human Rights Commission, the Law Commission, Anti-Corruption Bureau,
whose common aim was to consolidate the country’s hard earned democracy.

But that will not stop us from recognising him again for some of the
undemocratic things he championed like bidding for unpopular third and
open terms, unleashing terror to people who had dissenting political
views through the Young Democrats (what an ironic name) and presiding
over a regime synonymous with economic plunder and corruption.

So when his time to retire finally came in 2004, people might have
heaved a huge sigh of relief. But Muluzi would not allow to just retire
peacefully, well documented political literature shows he handpicked
President Bingu wa Mutharika, then a rank outsider in UDF, to represent
the party instead of allowing the party to democratically choose his
successor. The way Bingu came into the UDF presidential candidate
picture had all the hallmarks of a dictator at work and no wonder some
party heavyweights like Aleke Banda, Justin Malewezi, Harry Thomson and
numerous others could no longer bear it and quit UDF. All this came
after Muluzi miserably failed to extend his stay at State House by
trying to effect an unpopular constitutional amendment and probably the
reasoning was that if I do not get it, then nobody does.

As if Bingu’s issue was not enough, Muluzi and his UDF imposed
parliamentary candidates on voters and the result was disaster as the
party came out of the polls scathed and was left licking its wounds.
Before that, apparently to ensure that he still has control over a
party he allegedly started, Muluzi bid for UDF chairmanship and made
the position, hitherto a ceremonial or non-existent post, the most
powerful in the party hierarchy. This made him more powerful than the
presidential candidate and some commentators argued it was a strategy
to rule through the backdoor when the UDF candidate finally makes it to
State House. Muluzi also ensured that Bingu the candidate is left with
no illusion on who he owes his ticket to State House so that he can
ably do his bidding on state and political matters.

Thanks to Bingu’s sudden and historic change of heart of this piece of
political engineering came to nothing when the President quit UDF to
form his DPP, now a self-acclaimed ruling party. Bingu cited corruption
in UDF for his resignation but commentators suspect some “remote
controlling” from his predecessor (Remember how long it took Bingu to
appoint his first cabinet?).

In fact, later Muluzi admitted his political mistakes to UDF supporters
in Lilongwe and accordingly apologised. After that, we all thought the
man had learned from his mistakes and that he would no longer allow
himself to make unilateral decisions for the party. Unfortunately, old
habits die hard as the saying goes, and Muluzi pulled a surprise, at
least to many people but not to some of us. He announced his desire to
come out of retirement and the strategy was similar to that of the open
and third term bids; test the waters through some district and regional
party leaders while he remains quiet as if he is not interested.

Of course, he later openly declared his interests that saw initial
hopefuls like Brown Mpinganjira, Friday Jumbe and Sam Mpasu withdrawing
their interest “out of respect”.

This brought divisions in the party with emergence of pressure groups
like the Taskforce. For Mpasu, his frustrations reached boiling point
and he could no longer hide them, a development that forced UDF to
strip him off his party spokesman role, accusing him of using it to
attack the party and its leadership. There is talk of discontent
between the other hopefuls although they have seized each and every
opportunity to refute this. We hope only time will tell.

Now there is this jazz about Muluzi ruling out holding primaries in
constituencies where the party has sitting MPs while other party
leaders like Humprey Mvula and Mpinganjira arguing otherwise. Mvula
actually sees no sense in this because some of the sitting MPs might
have not performed to the expectations of electorates and imposing such
MPs on voters could be tantamount to committing suicide. Interestingly,
Muluzi uses an alien understanding of democracy to buttress his stand;
that democracy is based on loyalty and that these MPs have been loyal
to UDF when others abandoned ship to join DPP and hence the need to
reward them with automatic qualification. Muluzi might be posing and
claiming to be a democrat in all this but his statements and actions
smack of dictatorship.

If UDF was not all about Muluzi and vice versa, we would have been
saying that we will wait to see how the issue of holding primaries in
constituencies with sitting MPs would be addressed but do we have to?
Isn’t the conclusion obvious? Only time will tell if Muluzi is the
democrat he claims to be despite clear signs of dictatorship emanating
from his statements and actions.

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