Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder. But President Peter Mutharika is seemingly oblivious to this notion – or, has better strategies and tactics under his sleeves, deploying a rare kind of “Desktop Politics”.
President Mutharika is nowhere near the campaign trail some 30 days before the showdown. He has left everything to his running mate Atupele Muluzi and party cadres across the rank and file of the two parties.
As Atupele and company go on the trail, it feels like they are marketing an absent product whose functionalities, aesthetics and other things essential are left to everybody’s own imagination. This is wrong for politics. It creates room for onslaught. And the mental gaps created among the loyal DPP supporters who are part of the electorate make them vulnerable to jump ship. The same applies to fence sitters.
His absence is surprisingly so. Stories of health concerns abound, there is no counter-narrative. Neither is there action to create a sense of seriousness on his candidature in the court ordered fresh polls.
The president may be working 20 hrs a day to keep this country running. But this is not all that matters. People want to see their leader. They want to be listening to their leader and have him listen to their needs and wants – or at least pretend to be doing just that. This is more relevant now as we head towards the fresh polls.
A lot is at stake for Mutharika and only his justification on what he has achieved and what’s in the pipeline can, at least, give him some leverage over his pushy opponents.
There could be several reasons. Mutharika may be reserving his energy for the last few days of the campaign or he has made a decision to let fate take its course, he could be unwell or, indeed, it’s just a subtle way of honourably giving up after a stressful one year.
The last time he appeared to the public was when he presented his nomination papers and declared the fresh polls were robbing him of his victory. Before then, it was when he threatened (or is it attempted) to impose a 21 day lockdown on his majority foodless citizens to contain COVID-19. This was defeated in court.
Not surprisingly, some Malawians deprived of a political father-figure and have turned to opposition leaders as a consolation. Instead of seeking refuge in what’s happening now from their incumbent leader, they are earning some dose of hope in what could happen if the alternate father figures are ushered into power.
The vacuum created by Mutharika has, unknown to many, created a disconnect that could prove more damaging in the next 30 days.
Mutharika is not new to the missing in action escapades, by the way. I recall he would leave for the US for months when his duties as minister education were highly sought. He surely can’t be blamed as if he did it without his boss’s approval.
If the then boss approved, perhaps we have no basis to grumble over the taxpayers’ money that might have been used during hours, days or months of inaction. He might have gone for medical reasons, in which case his absence can be not unpardonable then or now.
The biggest worry is that if not for show of being in control, at least for his own visibility, the octogenarian ought to show face once in a while.
We are in an era of political marketing. We have undergone a lot of transformation as a nation. Demographics have swiftly changed. Social media has opened windows of learning and people expect Mutharika to be as frequently visible as President Donald Trump in US, Cyril Ramaphosa in South Africa or John Magufuli in Tanzania.
With more youths assuming the role of voters, an old, inactive and invisible leader may not be a leader they look up to.
Like always, I don’t say it out of malice but sincerity. The mind share Mutharika holds now is too low. Do a media presence audit between the political rivals if you think I am lying!
His share of voice is negligent. His reign has had very little to show for (perhaps not in real sense but as a result of the drowning of his narrative). As a result, a third party is appointed to sell him without carving a proper unique selling proposition.
In marketing, a product’s uniqueness gives it an edge over the others. What’s the uniqueness to Mutharika’s candidature? Surely, whatever it is, his seemingly introvert behaviour and behind the curtains lifestyle is burying his chances.
If Mutharika takes the office of president seriously, he needs to come out personally to tell us, the electorate, his agenda. If this is too much to ask for, then at least not live, just on TV and radio. Even recorded. But a complete blackout is short charging us, the electorate.
Mr. President, talk to the people. Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima are all guns blazing. Their deployment is a threat to your reign. Do a sober analysis of the calibre of influencers on their side versus yours. You can’t just take cover on the fortified walls of Sanjika without putting a fight.
Neither can you boost support by the out-numbered youths trying to engage in thuggery under the guise of supporting you. This takes votes away from you – whether the unruly behaviour is sanctioned or not.
At court he lost for many times too embarrassing for a law a Professor. On the streets he lost, the HRDC survived the terrorism stereotype and created a politician, Timothy Mtambo, now leading the onslaught against him. Since he became president he has been selective on where he steps his feet in a country he governs. An infographic would be so damning in its evidence of bias on the choice of where he steps on with his presidential feet.
In the likely event that Mutharika loses in the forthcoming fresh election, blame it on his lacklustre attitude to plead for people’s vote. Blame it on his seemingly sense of entitlement as evidenced by his continuous absence. Blame it on his desktop politics!
What Mutharika is doing is not bad or more damaging to anybody else other than himself, his DPP and UDF surrogates. But mind you, should it so happen that he realises, too late, that his grip on power is smeared with grease and he can’t hold on any longer, the consequences will affect many citizens in one way or the other.
Mutharika cannot go to the fresh polls hoping the campaign he did ahead of 2019 was so effective that it remains so to date. Even if it were, he wouldn’t be fair on himself to believe the events in the intervening period did not cause haemorrhage to his support base. The court cases caused a lot of damage. They implanted a serious sense of mistrust. The combined combustion between Chakwera and Chilima should not be ignored, either. It’s deadly.
These factors require President Mutharika, before Atupele or any other party cadre, on the road to make amends or mitigate the impact of the attrition suffered.
Someone close to the president tell him. Desktop politics is not good politics. It smacks of oldness, laziness, tiredness and/or sickness.