Malawian newspapers have this week been rife with reports on independent candidates, failed joint United Democratic Front (UDF) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential candidate John Tembo and the swearing in of the country’s newly elected Members of Parliament (MPs).
The focus on Tembo emanated from his recent declarations he did not accept Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) presidential candidate’s win in the May 19 presidential elections. The Electoral Commission declared Bingu wa Mutharika winner of the polls but Tembo has refused to bulge over his allegations the elections had many irregularities and, thus, he can not accept the results until the courts determine on the matter.
Journalists have been interested to see whether Tembo would accept to be sworn in, and thus, subsequently, concede defeat indirectly in so doing. The UDF/MCP candidate finally took oath of office and allegiance on Tuesday, but maintained that did not translate into a concession of defeat as he was still convinced he won.
“This (swearing in) does not, in any way, mean I have conceded defeat. Which defeat?” queried Tembo.
He was booed by perceived DPP supporters as he took his oath of office; equally cheered on by a handful of MCP sympathizers who included his wife Ruth.
As the focus on the swearing in of MPs, which was high on newspaper pages earlier in the week, waned, attention turned to the next moves of independent MPs. Most of them failed in party primaries and decided to stand on their own but were using party symbols and slogans.
It was interesting to note that some of the independents who were, hither to, behind MCP candidate Tembo changed ship and went to seat on the government side. These included Jolly Kalero, a former presenter and broadcaster at the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation.
This could, in part, explain why the number of DPP elected MPs has swollen to 143 (as of yesterday). Party Publicity Secretary Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba said the number was more likely to grow as more MPs saw development sense in working with Mutharika.
The other interesting issues well covered by the newspapers was former president Cassim Chilumpha’s declaration he would support government, and that he was working on joining the DPP.
Chilumpha was critical of Mutharika during the formative years of DPP, accusing him of “cheating UDF voters” by ditching the party while in government to form his own, the DPP.
However, his recent declaration has not come as a surprise because the former Veep was asking his constituents from Nkhotakota to vote for him as MP and Mutharika for president.
During his last days in office, he also surprised observers when he, all of a sudden, started singing praises for government, even prompting Mutharika to laud Chilumpha’s efforts in rallying people’s support towards government’s initiatives.
The former Vice President contested for the UDF presidency against party chairperson Bakili Muluzi, where he lost miserably against accusations of favoritism as Muluzi was allowed to address convention delegates and he (Chilumpha) was not. That is largely attributed to be the cracking point between Chilumpha and Muluzi on one hand, and Chilumpha and the party on the other.
A situation compounded by the conviction and subsequent jailing of one of his vocal supporters Sam Mpasu. Mpasu’s ordeal came before the convention, exposing Chilumpha to the political winds so powerful to be faced with alone.
Many independents have joined the government side during the week, a fact that also attracted media attention. The Daily Times, for instance, described the MPs’ move in an editorial as betrayal of voters’ wishes.
It questioned whether voters were foolish to vote for independents instead of, say, DPP, UDF or MCP? The paper asked MPs not to betray the wishes of their constituents by jumping ship anyhow.
This and next week, attention is expected to focus on the appointment of a new cabinet by president Mutharika. Delays to do so would delay the next meeting of parliament, largely expected to be early next week, or make it academic if it is held without cabinet ministers.
All eyes are on Mutharika. He is the appointing authority, as said by Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Bright Msaka, this week.