Hon. Folks, I harbour no illusion that the much-touted 50+1 system is panacea for Executive arrogance.
If anything, former president Bingu wa Mutharika, who scooped 66 percent of the votes in 2009 general elections, showed the system can actually embolden a leader to think he or she has the mandate of the people to be intransigent and arrogant.
After the 2009 elections, Bingu brought in the so-called zero-deficit budget to wean Malawi from western donor aid which, he claimed, was used as a tool for a sinister agenda to put Africa under the yoke of neo-colonialism. He listened to no one, answered to no one and brooked no criticism.
His experiment flopped with serious consequences to the economy which was growing at an average of 7.5 percent during his first term (2004 to 2009). Too much political interference in the monetary policy resulted in acute shortage of foreign exchange which in turn led to shortage of fuel, drugs, raw materials and even spare parts.
The economy tumbled and, although Bingu died on April 5 2012, we are yet to recover from the mess he created which DPP under APM doesn’t own.
Still, if you were to ask me to choose between the current first-past-the-post and the 50+1 systems, I would 100 percent go for the latter. Democracy isn’t just about electing the president every five years, it should also be about the rule of the majority.
First-past-the-post system compromises the principle of electing a president by universal suffrage. A candidate, through corrupt means such as cronyism and patronage, can garner barely enough votes of those looking to him or her as wakwathu or wakwithu or jwakumangwetu to be the first to pass the post.
The 50+1 system ensures that the winner significantly permeates areas away from his or her stronghold. That way, such a president, whether good or bad, will at least have something resembling a national mandate.
On APM’s watch we’ve seen estranged Malawians demanding cessation or federalism. These events may be episodic but they underpin a sense of alienation which first-past-the-post only nurtures. The end can be tragic, tearing into pieces the fabric of our nationhood if the frustration is allowed to reach boiling point. They say a stitch in time saves nine.
The call for a change from first-past-the-post to 50+1 system may send a chill down the spine of APM, especially after his party’s spectacular loss to MCP in the October by-election but shouldn’t be ignored. Leadership is about making choices that are good for the country.
If Kamuzu Banda had not placed the interest of the nation above his own political interest, we wouldn’t have enjoyed a smooth transition that his successors are failing to capitalise on. We have Rwanda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, South Sudan and other African countries where precious life was needlessly sacrificed for sheer political expediency to learn from.
The APM government promised to table an enabling bill for the 50+1 system in the current sitting of Parliament. Sending confusing signals now is creating unnecessary political tension. I shudder to imagine the consequences if the bill is altogether abandoned or deliberately pushed to Parliament too late for the new law to be used in the 2019 elections.
When the people decided in 1993 to change from a one-party to a multi-party system, a lot of ground work was laid, under Kamuzu, to ensure a smooth transition. Even before the 1994 general elections, he allowed the opposition to be involved in the running of the country under the Public Affairs Committee (PAC).
The so-called democratic leaders gradually started taking advantage of loopholes in the law, at times changing the laws themselves, including the Constitution, to suit their partisan interests. Even MPs are culpable. Now the chickens have come home to roost and people want a “government of the people, for the people and by the people.”
Let the majority, not the minority, decide who should serve as State President.