Walk with me down the history lane…
In 1992, Bingu wa Mutharika was one of the founding members of UDF. He had all along been nurturing the dream to become president of Malawi someday. Even his daughter Duwa Mutharika confirmed this during her dad’s funeral when she said that her father always told her when she was young that he was going to be president one day and she was going to be her vice – that last part was of course just some dad and daughter jokes.
Now, while UDF was preparing to hold its first Convention in 1993, Bingu thought his time to become president had come. He decided he was going to contest at the primaries as presidential candidate. But when the time for the Convention which was held at Natural Resources College in Lilongwe had come, UDF party gurus led by Cassim Chilumpha blocked Bingu from contesting against Bakili Muluzi. Among other issues, they claimed Bingu was never a genuine member of the party. They just wanted to suppress competition and pave way for Bakili Muluzi. Bingu became disgruntled but did not abandon his dream of becoming president someday. As a result, towards the 1999 Elections, Bingu left UDF and formed his own party called the United Party which, sadly, lost the elections.
When his newly formed party lost the 1999 elections, Bingu learned some good lesson – I will tell you the lesson he learned. It was the same lesson that Chakufwa Chihana had learned in 1994 and gave up his presidential ambitions right away. So after learning from defeat, Bingu humbled himself and returned to UDF. Bakili Muluzi was kind enough. He gave him a job at the Reserve Bank where he became Deputy Governor in 1999. Later Muluzi appointed Bingu as Minister of Economic Planning and Development.
But Bingu had not totally given up his dream. He was still dreaming in color. Towards the elections that followed in 2004, Bingu was handpicked by President Muluzi as presidential candidate for the UDF. I understand it was Humphrey Mvula who suggested the name of Bingu to Muluzi as successor after Muluzi had tasked him with the crucial job of identifying a potential successor who would be a puppet enough for Muluzi to continue ruling from behind. I am sure that Mvula believed Bingu would be the needed puppet president because Bingu played his cards very well upon returning to UDF. He reinvented himself and became a good boy which successfully earned him back the trust of Muluzi and the UDF strategists. The same Chilumpha who had blocked him from contesting against Muluzi in 1993, now became his running mate. In May 2004 he finally realized his dream and became president of Malawi.
The most important lesson that Bingu learned which motivated him to dissolve his UP and go back to UDF was that no matter how smart and visionary a political leader can be in Malawi, he cannot become president unless he leads a party that commands sufficient regional votes because that is the only way you win elections in country where tribal and regional affiliations determine political allegiance. Chakufwa Chahana, the father of our democracy had learned this lesson earlier and quicker than Bingu. When he contested and lost in 1994, Chihana never contested again until his death because he knew that the northern bloc could never, in his life time, give him the needed votes to become president.
Chilima cannot win the presidency with his UTM. That will not happen. I agree with a certain good friend who told me when I visited him for a chat at Chancellor College last month that “Chilima is a very strong candidate but his party is weak.” It is true; UTM got around 1 million votes during last year’s elections. But those were Chilima’s votes not UTM’ votes. The support in the country is for Chilima not for UTM. That is why UTM failed to get MPs.
Chilima needs a party that has strong regional loyal votes. That party is not UTM and it might not be the one in his life time.
But the question is, how does Chilima get such a party?
Bingu dissolved UP and went back to UDF and became president 4 years later. Can Chilima go back to DPP and relax there? If he goes back to DPP, he can only go as Chilima not as UTM. DPP strategists and party gurus are likely to feel safer with Chilima as a member of DPP than as an ally from UTM. The former option would require that Chilima dissolves his UTM on condition that he becomes the presidential candidate for DPP. DPP can’t have him as presidential candidate while he is president of UTM. That would be a non-starter. This of course would require that President Mutharika must forgo the candidacy in the event of fresh elections. And he can’t forgo the candidacy to president of another party.
In the final analysis, both UTM and DPP can’t win elections without each other. Not possible. They both must make huge compromises and sacrifices. Chilima must dissolve UTM on one hand, and Mutharika must forgo the candidacy of DPP on the other hand. That will guarantee a 50% + 1 victory without a runoff (rerun) election. Otherwise, they will give this chance to MCP which is closer to victory now than they have ever been since the history of multiparty.
If the DPP/UTM deal fails, then UTM must try at all cost to at least not miss getting UDF on board. This will not be as good as striking a deal with DPP because Atupele lost his grip on the Eastern Region votes even as early as the 2014 elections. But it will still be a safer Plan B than going solo. Who knows, the two boys might win.