- In an unprecedented move for Malawi's main opposition party, the United Democratic Front (UDF), three of its top officials have began a secret campaign to win the post of president in the party, 'The Chronicle' has uncovered. It is usual for the former President of Malawi and the UDF, Bakili Muluzi, alone to decide on the position.
Sources close to the party confided in 'The Chronicle' that Vice President Cassim Chilumpha, former National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leader Brown Mpinganjira and the party's Shadow Minister of Finance Friday Jumbe have each launched their campaigns for the post to be created at an extra-ordinary convention following the resignation of President Bingu wa Mutharika from the former ruling UDF party. Ex-President Muluzi has been advised to desist from being involved in local politics and will not challenge for the presidency.
"Unofficially, Honourable Mpinganjira, Honourable Jumbe and the Right Honourable Chilumpha want to be presidential candidates for the UDF in 2009 and they want to take advantage of the mini-convention to stand for the post of President to be created at the convention," said the source.
The source further intimated that the outcome of the convention would bring problems in the opposition party, as all the candidates might be unwilling to accept the results. "Yes, it is difficult to tell what will happen after the election. It is difficult to tell what Honourable Mpinganjira will do should he lose the presidency of the party, the same with Honourable Chilumpha and Honourable Jumbe," he said.
He added that, currently, there are cracks in the party, as former Malawian President Bakili Muluzi, who is also the national chairman of the party, seems to favour Mr Chilumpha to fill the presidency position.
"When Muluzi was leaving for the UK, he appointed Chilumpha to be acting national chairman, yet Chilumpha has no position in the party. He is not the vice national chairman and he does not hold any position at all. This clearly shows that Muluzi favours Chilumpha," said the source.
However, Sam Mpasu, the UDF spokesperson told 'Capital Radio' during a Sunday Roundtable Discussion programme recently that Mr Muluzi was grooming Mr Chilumpha for the post of first vice chairman of the party. Mr Mpasu, in an interview with 'The Chronicle', quashed reports of power struggle in UDF between leaders Chilumpha, Jumbe and Mpinganjira.
He described the reports of the alleged "power struggle" as mere fabrication by the party in government, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as a way of forcing the UDF to select a weak candidate. The DPP is the party created by current President Mutharika after he left the UDF, following a power struggle with ex-President Muluzi.
"As you may recall, UDF had a convention in 1993 and the Constitution of the party states that the party shall hold a convention after five years. We will have another convention in 2008, but we are likely to hold an extra-ordinary meeting to fill the gaps existing in the party, but the DPP people are trying to create confusion in the party."
The DPP "are fabricating stories so that they confuse the party to eventually make a wrong choice on a candidate - but we are very careful on that one, we will fight against that," said Mr Mpasu.
The UDF spokesperson admitted the party is yet to identify a presidential candidate and running mate for 2009. Mr Mpasu could not exactly say when the opposition party would hold the extra-ordinary convention, saying the matter was discussed but never agreed upon.
"There are no indications that the party will elect a presidential candidate at the forthcoming extra-ordinary convention because the Constitution of the party states that the party should hold conventions after every five years. We will have vacancies in the posts of presidential candidate and running mate but not now," said Mr Mpasu.
Mr Mpasu stressed that his party was not in a hurry to elect a presidential candidate, saying elections and the campaign period are still far away. Political commentators say the election of the presidential candidate in UDF is a recipe for problems, as any losers would never accept the results.
"The 2004 problems when Aleke Banda, Harry Thomson and others left the party in frustration after Muluzi handpicked Mutharika might resurface. The party should gear itself for another fallout," said the analyst. Last week, DPP interim vice president Uladi Mussa declared that his party has resolved to endorse incumbent President Bingu wa Mutharika as presidential candidate in the 2009 elections, no matter what happens during the next three years.
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