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2019 Elections: Muslims At a Crossroads?

As the campaign for voter’s registration ahead of the 2019 tripartite elections continues, the religious divide has taken a wide twist with the emergence of yet another seemingly strong political contender, the United Transformation Movement (UTM) whose architect and frontrunner is the country’s second in command, Vice President, Rt. Honorable Dr Saulosi Klaus Chilima.

A staunch Catholic himself, Chilima has spent most of his entire vice presidency at least until the present moment, attending and guest honoring services and functions of the Roman Catholic Church. One would not be questioned to submit that the country’s Vice president has appeared more at such programmes than national functions. This Notwithstanding, political commentators and the electorates have with mutual observance arguably wondered the coincidental composition of the posse of his advocates for his candidacy who mostly happen to be staunch Catholics as well.

Not long ago, the most revered Arch Bishop Thomas Msusa is on record to have made an interesting proclamation in his sermon during a service which the VP was in attendance, urging catholic faithfuls to cast their vote in favor of their own member of the church, in apparent reference to ‘the only son of the moment in the church’, Vice President, Saulos Chilima. The Muslim voter shillyshallies…

It is bare truth that the Muslim community has produced a political heavy weight who has so far won a patent in the political circle as Southern Region Heavy Weight, Sidik Mia, now Malawi Congress party (MCP) Vice President after winning unopposed at the party’s elective convention. Whether he enjoys the brand owing to his financial muscle or his political prowess, the Lower Shire giant is no match to most political figures including renowned Muslim politicians of our time.

Potentially a strong contender at the 2019 tripartite polls, MCP was until the Masintha and Njamba UTM launches, an alternative choice and the party of the moment, enjoying huge following of most urban youth including a potential penetration in the previously no go zone Southern Region of Malawi, thanks to the substantial influence of Sidik Mia. Incontestably, Muhammed Sidik Mia is not only a powerful political figure in the country but also an outstanding personality among the Muslim community due to his resolute financial and material support that he renders to his faith.

Much as Mia remains a huge influence to Muslims to give MCP the alternative, and trust me, winning votes; the development seems feeble if the prevailing Cat and Mouse jigsaw involving the country’s presidency and his/her vice is anything to comprehend. Since the advent of multiparty democracy, vice presidents have not enjoyed cordial relationship with the first citizen and in many cases; the second in command are reduced to mere bearers of their position and constitutional fulfillment images.

They dare not exercise their right to freedom of association or expression against their masters; else they get their wings plucked to never fly again. That is Malawi and only Justin Malewezi, Dr. Kassim Chilumpha, Joyce Mtila Banda and in the latest and current episode, Saulos Chilima can ably tell a good story about my assertion. The Muslim voter now wonders, will the trend change for Sidik Mia in the event of MCP making into government. Should Mia be the reason and hope for Muslims to vote for MCP come May 21 next year and what’s the guarantee? Another puzzle.

Remember also that the MCP has a reverend for a president who also happens to be the party’s torch bearer, not just any reverend but a former President of the Assemblies of God in Malawi. By the way, I can’t wait for an atmosphere that will follow a time in our politics when a Sheikh will take the mantle of leadership in one political party. Yes I can’t wait to see non-Muslims follow and opt for a sheikh at the national polls just as Muslims are proving now that they are a model of political and religious tolerance. It’s their “We are Malawians first” and objectivity for “A better Malawi” that keep Muslims focused for good leadership irrespective of religion. Kudos!

Preceding the current political atmosphere, has been another moment of enigma for Muslims as they wandered in wilderness of alchemy following the miserable performance of their much followed United Democratic Front, UDF in the previous tripartite elections in 2014 where it fell on a pitiful 4th position.   The Agenda for Change Champion and leader of the party, Atupele Muluzi is a Muslim paternally from Machinga, home of his father and former President, Dr Bakili Muluzi. Muslims banked all their hopes on the young Muluzi who eventually buried his head in the hatchet and stooped to a ministerial post in President Peter Mutharika’s olive branch offer which has ironically and potentially left UDF in disarray. The Muslim voter could only watch with mouth agape.

If you ask me, not until now can one imagine what the future might be for the once mighty UDF which ruled Malawi for 10 years only to find itself in the opposition benches, 8 months after ushering Bingu Wa Mutharika (May His Soul Rest in Peace) the Presidency. Clever Bingu ditched UDF to form his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party, DPP following a series of bad blood with Atcheya who seemingly wanted to still remain in control and manipulate Capitol Hill decisions. Moya had already crossed Red Sea and Canaan was under his feet. He no longer needed the rod. The UDF, now whirling on “a new beginning” is absolutely out of the possible winners picture if they decide to go solo to the polls.

In the prevailing political scenario where a good faction of the ruling DPP continues to momentarily join forces with prodigal Saulos, President Peter Mutharika might find solace in the Eastern Region crowd pulling UDF to complement chances of remaining in power owing to the population statistics of the region which are indisputably enough to dictate outcomes of presidential election. To outweigh MCP’s Chakwera and possibly UTM’s Chilima, Mutharika knows pretty well that he needs to partner with the young Muluzi in a long speculated move orchestrated by the biggie at BCA Hill whose main desire is more his son’s achievement than UDF’s. The Muslim electorate eagerly awaits a day Mutharika will proclaim his running mate.

Obviously Atupele’s pairing with Peter as torch bearer could add value to the DPP which recently elected another renowned Muslim political figure, Salima’s Uladi Mussa aka Change Golo. Perhaps Uladi Mussa’s ascendency to DPP’s Central Region Vice Presidency warrants confidence in the DPP to be given the much needed Muslim vote?

And then we have the most recent former ruling PP whose leader and former President Joyce Banda declared her interest to contest next year. In there, are a couple of Muslim figures but most remarkably, the party’s Chief Executive, the Secretary General is a staunch and well versed Muslim in the name of Ibrahim Matola. Matola, a former Member of Parliament for Mangochi Lutende once served as cabinet minister in Joyce Banda’s brief tenure. If Amayi really joins the contest, will she pick Matola for running mate? Serving as SG of the party is so significant and should as well not be seen any lesser. Amayi also is of the dominant tribe of the Eastern Region which is predominantly Muslim. Is PP worth the Muslim vote?

Former Vice President in late Bingu Wa Mutharika’s first 5 years, Dr Cassim Chilumpha, a devoted Muslim and well learned lawyer and graduate of Chancellor College is also in the scene. He is currently the President of the Assembly for Democracy and Development, ADD which my intuitive assessment of its composition reveals a good representation of Muslims. Will rumours of ADD going in a coalition with other opposition political parties materialize? Will Casssim stand and carry the mantle of ADD or a grand coalition? Let’s wait and see, perhaps Muslims will stop looking down on him and give him their vote.

They say anything can happen in politics. Probability of Atupele partnering with Saulos Chilima cannot be ruled out in the event that Peter decides otherwise. After all, if Atupele expects to race along Peter Mutharika, what difference would it make to race along Saulosi Chilima in a much praised combination by Chilima himself during his dialogue with Zodiak’s Gospel Kazako. Chilima has already tasted the vice Presidency and your guess is as good as mine as to who between himself and Atupele could be the possible running mate given that scenario. Would the Muslim electorate prefer such an amalgamation? What a blend, but still Muslims remain jumbled.

Then there is another plausible boom; three regional heavyweights teaming up to avoid despicable splitting of the electorate. Despite all the taunt and scare over Cashgate that Amayi suffered from government while she was in self-exile, she landed with a hero’s welcome at Chileka Airport where her Orange Fanatics thronged with chants of praise. Even after declaring her interest to contest (whether it was a mere political gimmick), she has enjoyed her freedom and government has ironically not disparaged her. Amayi didn’t badmouth government even when Zodiak’s Tiuzeni Zoona tried to corner her; she was so recoiled. DPP, UDF and PP may go to the polls a united front in a Southern alliance.

That’s the puzzle of politics and Muslims are at a crossroads because they have never had a systematic political agenda .

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