By Richard Chirombo
People’s Progressive Movement (PPM), an alliance partner to President Bingu wa Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), seems set to follow the state president’s footsteps, albeit on different missions.
This came to the fore again this week, when PPM president Mark Katsonga Phiri addressed a campaign meeting at Ndirande’s Chirunga Ground on Monday, a day after Mutharika addressed a similar meeting at Ndirande Community Centre Ground. The two venues are just a kilometer apart.
Katsonga was in the populous township to win votes for PPM’s parliamentary candidate in the by-elections slated for this week, Margaret Saenda, while Mutharika was in town for the sake of Themba Mkandawire.
Mutharika has this year attracted a lot public attention, and uproar in equal measure, largely generated through the purchase of Hummers, which now form an integral part of his presidential convoy. Katsonga has not let the Hummers’ phenomenon gather around Mutharika’s personality only, but has purchased his own- an automobile he is employing to good use during campaign, including the one for Blantyre’s City Central constituency now on the table for claim.
PPM surprised Malawians in the run up to the country’s May 19 Presidential and Parliamentary elections when it announced, during the handover ceremony of papers for its presidential candidates to Malawi Electoral Commission officials, it would no longer feature candidates. The party announced, instead, it would support Mutharika’s candidature.
Observers, including Mzuzu University political analysts Noel Mbowela, described it as a marriage of convenience at the time, one that lacked clear terms of reference and guidelines on mutual benefits.
Mutharika then, during a meeting addressed in Katsonga’s Neno constituency, denounced Katsonga, accusing him, among other things, of cheating constituents that the DPP had endorsed him as its parliamentary candidate when the party already had a female candidate in the name of Reen Kachere.
The outburst put Katsonga in a catch-22 situation, as he still maintained the two parties’ relationship remained intact, and that Mutharika’s outbursts were merely part of the heat that was campaign.
Now, some three months after the May 19 elections, the relationship between the two parties remains hazy. Mutharika has done little to clear the air by his apparent disregard of PPM officials at his official meetings and public rallies.
PPM, which previously had over five Members of Parliament in the previous House, now has none, reducing the party to a side show and preparatory ground for the 2014 Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
Observers see the difference in metres between Ndirande Community Centre Ground (where Mutharika addressed a campaign rally on Sunday) and Chirunga Ground (the abode of Katsonga on Monday) as being representative of the ‘inside’ distance between the two political bedfellows.
Kenwilliams Mhango, one of the observers, said the two parties were now drifting apart, and attributed the development to the lack of clear terms of reference for the parties since their relationship was forged by way of an ad hoc strategy.
This could be seen from Mutharika and Katsonga’s sentiments during their Sunday and Monday meetings, respectively. Mutharika told a mammoth gathering at the Community Centre Ground that they should vote for nobody else but DPP’s Mkandawire. He described the other aspirants as mere opportunists who had nothing to offer. This includes PPM’s Saenda.
Katsonga, on his part, implored constituents to vote for Saenda only, saying the other political parties had failed to meet the aspirations of the people. He especially took at a swipe at the most immediate past Member of Parliament for the constituency, Gift Mwamondwe, and his party, saying they had failed people.
Mwamondwe was a DPP parliamentarian who will now stand as an independent. He accuses the DPP, where he still claims to belong, of ‘doctoring’ results of constituency primaries last year in favour of Mkandawire.
The PPM President also took time to visit Ndirande Market vendors. Katsonga was one of the first politicians to respond to the vendors’ dire call of distress when fire gutted down the market late last year, and donated K3 million.
Addressing the vendors, who gathered in the market premises on Monday, Katsonga asked them to vote for his candidate Saenda, saying the other political parties had little regard for their plight as evidenced by their slow response to the calamity that befell them last year.
Vendors especially accused government of employing ‘abandonment’ tactics after the fire, citing the slow response to their troubles, a development that led to an attempted gutting down of a DPP office in the area.
Katsonga seemed to play this ‘anger’ card very well this week, imploring the vendors not to put the incident fast behind the wheels of the past but show that they, too, could make responsive decision at the ballot box, decisions that reflected the realities of everyday life.
"I would accept no other form of gratitude (to the donation I gave you) other than the gift of Saenda from this constituency. That is the best way to thank me. PPM is the only party that can do wonders for you, and that you can enjoy by voting for Saenda. I leave you with these words, my beloved vendors," said Katsonga.
When asked about the present status of his party’s relationship with DPP, Katsonga maintained it was intact. He said PPM had won the May 19 presidential elections by virtue of Mutharika, their supported candidate, winning the polls.
It was the voice of an ambitious party president looking forward to 2014.
At last, the coffin finally came. In went the PPM and DPP, together. Once again, the independents had ruled again in Zomba Malosa and Blantyre Central constituencies.