As expected, Atupele Muluzi emerged as a winner at this week’s United Democratic Front (UDF) convention in Blantyre. This means Atupele will contest against his current boss, Joyce Banda in 2014 general elections, should UDF decide to feature a presidential candidate – this is not a forgone conclusion by the way.
Protests and boycotts against UDF’s convention notwithstanding, the convention has somewhat re-energised the party. UDF badly needed such energy – the party has been feeble for about eight years now. Atupele must take advantage of this momentum to re-organise the party that has several factions fighting for what cannot be easily identified. This is a perfect platform for Atupele to prove and showcase his leadership qualities. Especially that no one is sure he has it.
To do this, Atupele has two options: first, and very crucial, he must resign from his ministerial position. There is nothing wrong with holding a ministerial post while leading an opposition party but in Atupele’s case conflict of interest is inevitable. If Atupele retains his position as development and economic planning minister then he may as well forget de-campaigning Joyce Banda’s People’s Party (PP) on its monitory and development policies, as he is the one implementing it.
Forging coalition with PP for 2014 elections should not be ruled out. After all UDF failed to feature a presidential candidate in 2009, opting to go with Malawi Congress Party’s John Tembo instead. Atupele is still a daddy’s boy and his father Bakili Muluzi who engineered the Tembo partnership still calls the shots in UDF. It is difficult to believe that Atupele will be independent of his father in all issues UDF.
If Atupele opts to work with PP, the would be letting down his supporters and in the same process legitimatising protesting camps with UDF, especially the one led by Friday Jumbe – the party’s former “acting president”. Otherwise Jumbe et al have lost it completely. Boycotting the convention was counterproductive from their point of view – they should have attended it and protest from within.
If Atupele is serious about his political career and his ambitions to lead this country, which he clearly has, then he must be bold enough to relinquish his ministerial position. Staying on as minister means nothing but endorsement of Joyce Banda’s policies. I know that principled politicians are scarce in Malawi but this is a simple issue: you cannot participate in something you disagree with if you want anyone to take seriously.