Atupele Muluzi had no serious contender for the UDF chairmanship. No wonder it was a walkover for him on Tuesday night.
But the votes the son of the former president amassed make it highly probable he could have whacked any remnants of his father’s regime, including sidelined interim party president Friday Jumbe who, by boycotting the convention, seems to have hit the end of his political career.
I have no doubt in my mind that the former president was not indifferent to the rise of his son. He may indeed have been the so-called invisible hand in key activities leading to the election of Atupele, including helping the financially broke UDF to hold the convention, as the Jumbe faction alleges.
Atupele needs not feel bad over this. His dad has always been the invisible hand behind the rise of any key leader in UDF, including Jumbe himself and the former president Bingu wa Mutharika. What is different this time is that, technically, he did not hand-pick his son to the highest position in the party.
Rather, it is members of the party who overwhelmingly voted for the young Muluzi through a democratic process that, so far, only the ruling People’s Party (PP) has had the courage to embrace. The rest of the parties in democratic Malawi are yet to espouse intra-party democracy despite the noise they make about democracy.
Indeed, it is high time civil society organisations, the faith community and the media embarked on a serious campaign to educate the electorate to shun presidential candidates of parties who rise either through self-appointment or by dodging the holding of party elections.
Let Mutharika’ effrontery to democracy while serving as State president be a life-time lesson to Malawians that political power entrusted in leaders who rise from parties which do not practise democracy is likely to be used undemocratically.
Those who do not cherish democratic values where they come from are less likely to learn to treasure them in a context where “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
This is not to say people such as Atupele are insulated from dictatorship by the process of rising through a democratic process in their respective parties. I would not be naïve to say such a thing! Rather, I am simply ascribing to the wise saying that charity begins at home.
Probably, I should also not hide my pleasure in the fact that Atupele’s rise through the ballot has automatically raised the bar in DPP for Peter Mutharika, the anointed successor of the late president. Peter does not look good at all, especially now, to claim leadership of a political party by a process that appears to be nothing much more than inheritance.
I won’t be surprised if DPP puts all positions in the party’s executive up for grabs through a convention before the 2014 elections. Should that happen, it would be a welcome ‘first’ for the party to elect leaders since it was born in 2005.
I am certain that MCP, Petra, Aford, Mafunde and all the other parties ready to contest in 2014 are also feeling enormous pressure to go to the polls to elect party leaders. All I can say to fellow Malawian voters is that unless they do that, kick them in the teeth, they are a threat to our democracy!
Back to young Muluzi: many of the comments I have heard since the UDF convention indicate that people are happy with Atupele’s rise mainly because he represents power shift from the dad generation which has failed Malawi to the youth, the agile cheetahs.
Will Atupele live up to the expectations? Will other younger political leaders in various parties, including the ruling PP, bring out the Obamas in them?
So far, the dad generation has been smart enough to use the youth in pushing for their undemocratic agenda. Starting from Kamuzu’s Youth League, Muluzi’s Young Democratcs and Mutharika Youth Cadets, the youth have been used to chant propaganda slogans and inflict physical and psychological pain on their master’s political rivals.
It would be a serious mistake if Atupele allows his dad who failed Malawians and has skeletons in his cupboard to ring the bell from the carrier where he is perched as a passenger. The biggest challenge for Atupele would indeed be convincing Malawians that he is his own person, not dad’s good boy.