President Peter Mutharika and Vice-President Saulos Klaus Chilima on Monday, May 28, 2018, held a meeting at Hilltop Sanjika Palace in Blantyre amid a political stand-off between the two leaders.
President Mutharika and vice-president Saulo Chilima held talks at Sanjika
Details are still sketchy about what transpired during the presidential palace meeting as there are conflicting theories about the agenda of the meeting with some speculating that the President summoned the Vice President to reprimand him for remarks he made at a Catholic Church event in Ntchisi on Saturday where he condemned “embarrassing levels” of corruption in the public, which he said had negatively affected service delivery.
Another highly-placed source told Nyasa Times on Tuesday the VP was not “summoned” but he requested to meet the Head of State on his own accord.
“He asked for an audience with President Mutharika. The President accepted to meet him and they met behind closed doors for two hours from two o’clock in the afternoon. No one knows what they discussed because they were only the two of them in that meeting,” said a State House source.
Presidential spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani was a little more guarded in his comment. He could only confirm the meeting took place but he could not divulge any information of who initiated it or what the agenda was.
However, one observer has suggested on social media that the VP and President Mutharika may have discussed some political ‘truce’ and that a deal may have been reached to normalize their relationship ahead of the crucial 2019 elections.
Political activist and former senior civil servant, Chikumbutso Mtumodzi, said such a ‘truce’ would be serious betrayal on the part of the VP against “people with colourful political careers, with respect from all sides of society who have put their heads on the political chopping board for Chilima”.
And governance expert Makhumbo Munthali told Nyasa Times that it is misleading and not true on the part of the Veep to claim that corruption has reached embarassing levels now “when in actual fact Malawians know deep down their heart that the current regime has romanced corruption from the very early days of its election into office.”
He said: “Where was the Veep when Malawians marched against Beam’s diverting of HIV/AIDS funds from NAC to activities that had nothing to do with HIV AIDs? Where was he when there was a cloud of suspicion over the sale of Malawi Savings Bank? Where was the Veep when the people’s electoral reforms were frustrated by the DPP government and some of its opposition cronies with the DPP later deciding to reward those MPs who rejected the reforms with the dubious K4 Billion? Is it not the Veep who two years ago labelled the critics of government as not competent to comment on political or governance issues a statement which was condemned by CSOs and print media as a threat to freedom of expression?”
Early last month, Callista Mutharika, former First Lady and late President Bingu wa Mutharika’s widow publicly made a statement that Vice President Chilima was a suitable presidential candidate for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) against the incumbent Mutharika.
Callista Mutharika said that Mutharika is advanced in age and that Chilima is youthful and energetic to carry the party to greater heights and stir it to victory during the May 21, 2019 tripartite elections.
Since Callista’s declaration, two camps have emerged within the DPP with one supporting Chilima and the other one behind President Mutharika. Chilima has not publicly expressed desire to run for high office but looking at the rapid growth of the ‘Chilima movement’ and his veiled public sentiments, it is highly probable he has set his eyes on the highest job in the land.
But following the said meeting on Monday, Mtumodzi posted on social media on Tuesday that “this is a moment of truth as to who Chilima really is”.
Mtumodzi argued that those who have backed ‘Chilima Movement’ cannot go back into the DPP with him and their political careers will be destroyed.
“Secondly if he accepts this position, has the corruption he condemned in front of one of the highest and most senior leaders of the Catholic Church in Malawi, the Archbishop Ziyaye just washed away overnight. Is this a signature of approval by Chilima that in exchange for his VP convoy, then Malawian taxpayers can be robbed with impunity,” wrote Mtumodzi, without elaborating what position had been agreed to by the two leaders.
Mtumodzi claimed Chilima has been blackmailed with a dossier of what appears to be trump up charges to clip his political wings.
It is yet to be seen how this Chilima-Mutharika stand-off would be end but one thing is clear and that is the purported ‘owners’ of the party would not let Chilima come anywhere near the party’s presidency.