Running mate choices stir debate, divide opinion

President Peter Mutharika's choice of Ntcheu lawmaker and cabinet minister Everton Chimulirenji is a decision has divided the DPP

While the excitement and hype surrounding the nomination of running mates by presidential hopefuls subsided after Friday’s deadline, the analysis that followed has carried on with unprecedented interest.

Many self-styled political analysts, most of them only practising the trade on social media, have taken the medium by storm, expressing varied thoughts, interpretations and assessments of the varied and somewhat outrageous picks.

In his analysis, South Africa-based political scientist Michael Jana says the position of the vice president is a token position.

“All the powers rest with the President. So, the choice of a running mate essentially has only symbolic significance to the masses at best or and gives a false sense of representation at worst. This choice largely serves the political calculations of the presidential candidate more than the substantive representation of the electorate,” he says.

He notes that, as such, the choice of the running mate generally serves the political calculations of the presidential candidate.

“The first consideration normally is the extent to which the running mate will woo additional votes for the presidential candidate. That is why you find that, given the regionalistic politics of Malawi, presidential candidates generally choose running mates from a different region.”

Chilima chose comedian and development activist Michael Usi as running mate
Chilima chose comedian and development activist Michael Usi as running mate

But Jana says the act of choosing running mates if not an exercise in futility.

“I don't think running mates are completely a waste of time. At best, they give a symbolic feeling of complementarity and/or representation to some sections of the electorate; and also gives presidential candidates a chance to tap into some votes from the running mate's base. What qualifies as a waste of time and resources to me is actually what happens after the presidency pair wins the election. Normally the vice presidents are used to serve the whims of the president and if they resist they remain tokens on government payroll. That is futile, and need to be addressed,” he says.

Meanwhile, Switzerland-based social commentator Onjezani Kenani says his view is that Malawian voters hardly think of the running mate when casting their vote.

“However, the substance the running mate is made of only comes into play in the event the president dies. Looking back this week, political opponents will have a lot to pick apart with regard to President Peter Mutharika's running mate who, in my opinion, neither has the qualifications nor the gravitas to be president.

Joyce Banda settled for former diplomat and former Admarc CEO Dr Jerry Jana
Joyce Banda settled for former diplomat and former Admarc CEO Dr Jerry Jana

“I think the most consequential candidates in this election are three: Mutharika, Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima. Chakwera's running mate has solid experience as a cabinet minister, businessman and politician, but questions have been raised about his educational qualifications. Chilima's running mate is a well-known television drama personality, and already because of his role in comedy doubts are being raised about Chilima's seriousness in choosing a comedian. However, Michael Usi's critics are omitting to consider his solid experience as a senior executive in the developmental sector, as well as his PhD he obtained recently from a British university.”

He says Joyce Banda and Atupele Muluzi may have hoped to ride on alliances that did not work.

“Their candidacies, therefore, were most likely last-minute decisions. As a result, they must have chosen their candidates in a hasty manner. Dr Jerry Jana is a solid executive with no political experience, while Frank Mwenefumbo has all the politics but no known supporting block of voters he could bring to the table,” he says.

On his part, civil society activist Moses Mkandawire argues that there is not much scrutiny in terms of integrity, communication skills, education and cultural consciousness.

“Some have picked their running mates on personal relationships or just to fill in a position. Others have been considered based on resources for supporting the party. It’s like the Presidential candidate has been captured and can hardly make an informed decision.

Atupele Muluzi went with Frank  Mwenifumbo, who leads a faction of AFORD
Atupele Muluzi went with Frank  Mwenifumbo, who leads a faction of AFORD

“Others have been considered on ethnic affiliations or so. Honestly speaking, can some of these running mates add any value? Funny enough how do you pick up a running mate from the road side? How prepared was this Presidential candidate? Mind you, we had over five years to plan for this but the way things have unfolded is as if this issue has just happened now?”

Mkandawire proposes a change in the nomination of running mates.

“I think the prerogative principle needs to be revisited. It’s being abused. Democracy may be under threat. We need to put up a system that ensures vetting of these candidates.”

Another social activist Billy Mayaya notes that Malawians are aware that some of the choices are manipulated to appear as though they emanate from the will of the people.

“The truth of the matter is that politicians play underhand tactics and subvert the will of the people. In most instances, the will of the youth, the poor and marginalised is muzzled further, sidelining them from playing a meaningful role in the democratisation process in Malawi.

“The future belongs to the youth. Therefore it is important to amplify youth voices in order to create space for the integration of issues that affect them.”