The group, known as “Friends of Atupele Muluzi”, is campaigning for the party’s former president, Atupele Muluzi, who resigned in May 2022, to run for the 2025 elections on UDF’s ticket.
According to UDF Secretary General Kandi Padambo, the party is aware of the parallel structure but considers it illegal as any new structures within the party must receive blessings from his office.
However, Padambo also stated that Atupele, who is the son of UDF’s founder and patron, Bakili Muluzi, is still a bona fide member of the party and free to contest any position of his choice.
“The group [Friends of Atupele Muluzi] can make those calls, I am sure it’s their right to do so. But when Right Honourable Atupele Muluzi decides to contest he will have to abide by the rules and procedures of the party. He will not contest because the grouping of Friends of Atupele Muluzi is making calls for him to contest but because he remains a member of the party and he will follow procedures that are in place for any member to contest for any position in the party,” said Padambo.
The Friends of Atupele Muluzi group has been holding meetings across the country, promoting Atupele as a clean and honest politician, untouched by corruption scandals. Atupele, who is yet to respond to requests for comment, announced his resignation as UDF president in a Facebook post on May 30th, 2022.
Political analyst Humphrey Mvula stated that the events in UDF could be a setback in the party’s rebuilding efforts. He added that as long as Atupele remains silent on whether he will form his own party or run as an independent, it could lead to further division within the party.
“Complicating the matter further is that Atupele has not said that he is forming a party or that he would like to stand as an independent president.”
Governance experts Boniface Chibwana and Mavuto Bamusi weighed in on the situation, with Chibwana suggesting that Atupele may feel entitled to continue leading UDF due to the “founder syndrome.”
“The founder syndrome is also associated with the financial muscle of the individuals and families that founded those political parties and some supporters align themselves to that family or individuals. This is what is happening in the UDF. Atupele Muluzi will feel entitled to continue leading UDF on the premise of the founder syndrome because it was his father that founded the UDF,” Chibwana said.
Bamusi added that the situation may affect the party’s strategic direction and lead to intraparty wrangling, resulting in leadership deficit and democratic fragilities at the national level.
UDF was the first political party to form a government after Malawi attained multiparty democracy in the 1990s. However, its popularity has waned in recent years, and experts are calling for the party to do some soul-searching and inject new leadership to reclaim its lost glory.