Malawi’s exciting soap opera continues to grip the attention of millions. Starring Peter Mutharika and Saulos Chilima, the fans are anxiously waiting to see how the next episode will pan out, writes the entertainment editor of The Express
SO, WHAT follows next for President Peter Mutharika and Vice President Saulos Chilima, after their recent secretive, but highly publicised meeting?
This is the question on the minds of many, as the relationship between the two, plays out like a soap opera that has gripped the imagination of Malawi’s population of 17 million.
The meeting came after weeks of tension over who between these two main characters, Mutharika or Chilima, should play the leading role as the governing Democratic Progressive Party, DPP prepares to take to the main political stage again in the country’s presidential and general elections in just under a year’s time from now.
The critics of Mutharika have been saying he is now too old to continue to play the leading role. He will be 80 years old by this time next year.
They have been warning that the DPP will lose the elections should Mutharika insist on projecting himself as the star of the show.
On their part, Chilima’s growing army of adoring fans say at the relatively young age of 45, he is the bright, young star that should take over Mutharika’s role and bring about a landslide win for the DPP.
Most of the votes in the elections are expected to come from a majority of voters, many of them of Chilima’s age and even younger.
These will be voting for the very first time and inspired by the basketball playing and golfing Chilima.
These are the youth who will be voting for the first time and are looking for jobs and scholarships, in a country that remains among the poorest in the world.
The other star in this soapy, but who has now taken a back seat while awaiting her next cue, is Callista.
She is the widow of Bingu. He was Peter Mutharika’s elder brother who died in office of a heart attack.
Callista made a dramatic entry on the stage when she declared on a closed Facebook posting that Mutharika should make way for Chilima because he was now too old and too unpopular for the task at hand.
Since then, the DPP has been facing an unprecedented split in its ranks of supporters.
This meeting between Mutharika and Chilima was reportedly the first attempt by concerned officials to try to minimise the damage and reconcile differences ahead of the DPP’s other important political stage: its convention, which is to be held in June.
No one knows for sure what the two discussed, or whether they will be exchanging notes again.
The problem for many, including those of us who are in the public arena, is that Chilima has really not come onto the stage to declare whether he intends to stand as president in or out of the DPP or whether he plans to return to the private sector where he headed one of the leading mobile phone service companies.
On the one hand, Mutharika has already declared himself –- ahead of the convention and in totally undemocratic fashion — to be the DPP’s presidential candidate in the coming elections.
On the other hand, Chilima has maintained a deafening silence, even in the face of provocative and violent attacks, against those who are backing his candidature.
The violence turned ugly when Mutharika’s supporters embarrassed him with noise that disrupted his state of the nation address, SONA, in parliament.
They even tried, though unsuccessfully, to prevent legislators who openly supported Chilima, from taking their seats at parliament.
Concerned cabinet ministers reportedly arranged the meeting between Mutharika and Chilima.
This was in the wake of recent public remarks by Chilima on high-level corruption in government.
The remarks angered a section of cabinet ministers who called on Mutharika to discipline Chilima.
Mutharika, according to reliable sources, tried instead to pursue a reconciliatory approach with Chilima who instead, apparently rebuffed the President’s overtures.
Chilima’s continued strategy of silence has baffled many. It’s a strategy that some observers say, could backfire against him. He has a strange script. He says nothing of substance, but only in parables.
Some his supporters have also been saying that they are perplexed by his silence while they have risked their political necks by openly backing him.
One of them reported that his car was petrol-bombed. Others have already been expelled from the party.
Those backers of Chilima who have not yet been expelled have been warned not to dare turn up at the party convention.
Until now, the police had not found the bombers. Nor had they arrested anyone following the fracas at parliament — not even in the face of calls by the top representative of the United Nations in Malawi for investigation and arrest of those behind the incidents.
Chilima however, in a rare show of position, spoke out against the disturbance at parliament. He described it in an official statement, as unacceptable and an embarrassment to the head of state.
His remarks, whether intended or not, projected him in the mold of the statesman and cast Mutharika as someone with no control over what was happening around him.
Mutharika did appear lost and helpless in parliament. He appealed feebly for help from the Speaker of Parliament but failed to use his executive powers to order the police to arrest the rabble-rousers.
It is against this background that Malawians now await with excited anticipation for the next episode in this enthralling soap opera.
Will the real Chilima stand up and break his silence? Or will Mutharika seize the moment with a spectacular display of statesmanship that will bring the curtain down to millions of cheering watchers?
Stand by. The next episode, coming soon to a stage near you, will reveal a show that will now bring the curtain down.