Once again the country is faced with an undesirable situation I can liken to a football match that kicks off without a referee and his assistants. There are written rules which all the players must observe but without these all-important enforcers of the rules, the end is chaos.
At best, the game has to be called off or should not start. But in Malawi’s unenviable situation, the game kicked off a long time ago. The referee will come to officiate the match but only when it is about to end. By such a time, some players might have been fouled, injured and stretchered off the pitch. It is a poisoned chalice.
This is the case with Malawi’s political space leading to the tripartite elections that take place every five years. Electioneering starts on the day the president is sworn in and goes on and on but the body mandated to manage the electoral process, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), will only become a duty bearer or take charge of one of the most volatile activities in the political space—the official campaign period—when there is only three months or less to the polling day.
Before the official campaign period, MEC’s electoral calendar is inundated with other issues and leaving the job of monitoring or regulating the political space in the hands of institutions and bodies which are either partisan or lack the legal spine to bite and capacity to act.
This is the reason MEC will always fail to prevent political violence—it is given the mandate to do so when it is too late. The other political players on the scene, political parties and politicians will have already done the damage.
There is need to broaden the mandate of MEC. As Henry Chingaipe has argued (Chingaipe, 2016) in “Electoral Conflict, and Violence in Malawi: Nature and Mitigation Measures”, MEC appears to have a very limited mandate over acts of open political conflict and violence especially in so far as mitigation of such incidents is concerned.
The Malawi Police Service (MPS) whose mandate is to maintain peace and calm in the country is compromised in many ways. First, it operates under the armpit of the Executive, whose leaders are an interested party in the elections. The Inspector General of the MPS is a political appointee. To what extent can he or she make decisions that offend the appointing office?
Over the years, this problem has been noted and that is why political parties and other political stakeholders such as the civil society organisations (CSOs) and the quasi-religious body, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) formed the Multiparty Liaison Committees (MLC) at various levels which come together to sanitise the political space. But the undoing of such entities is that their efficacy is at the discretion of the affiliation of its members. They operate on delegated powers. By and large, the mandate to decisively deal with acts of political violence in the country rests with the MPS.
With the benefit of hind sight, it is naïve to sit in our laurels and think the political space will change for the better with the MPS as the main instrument for enforcing law and order in the country. The MPS will arrest and prosecute perpetrators of violence, political or otherwise but only if such violence does not involve their political masters.
Last Saturday’s incidence of political violence in Mangochi where two United Transformation Movements vehicles were torched is the 15th since 2014. But the police have only swiftly reacted to just one incident. This one involved opposition political parties. For all the other 14 recorded acts of violence which were linked to the ruling party, the MPS has been a mere spectator.
What we can therefore be guaranteed that with the trend of events as we draw closer to the May 2019 elections is there will be more political violence and if the perpetrators are sponsored by the ruling party, no one will be arrested.