Hon Folks, I don’t remember if, in the past 25 years of multiparty government, there was ever an occasion when leaders from both sides of the political divide ever sat at the podium, celebrating our Independence anniversary together.
From back in the days of Bakili Muluzi—touted by some as the most tolerant of the four presidents we’ve had in the multiparty dispensation—the party in government celebrates independence alone or together with its bedfellow in a political marriage of convenience.
The opposition assumes the role of peripheral bystander not only in State functions but also in everything else to do with government. In fact, you are unlikely to get a top job in government or win a business contract with government if you are perceived as a sympathiser of the Opposition.
That’s how the warped concept of ‘supporting government of the day’—again mooted back in the days when UDF was the governing party—has evolved to define the winner-takes-it-all system that has bedeviled democratic Malawi.
But celebrating 6th July of 2019 was particularly bizarre. While APM and DPP supporters were at the Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre celebrating independence, the Opposition constituting over 60 percent of the voters weren’t there.
They were in courts and on the street, seething with anger and vigorously protesting the outcome of the presidential poll and the manner in which MEC Chairperson Jane Ansah conducted the election. They want the courts to nullify the outcome of the election and Dr. Ansah to go.
Much as the majority of the protestors went out there and exercised their constitutional right to demonstrate peacefully, there’s no denying the violence, looting and plunder that came along with it.
But as thugs took advantage of the demonstration to wreak havoc, many of us were left wondering where the law enforcers were. It had to take the Army to leave the barracks to do crowd control on the streets otherwise the damage would’ve been colossal.
Interestingly, it’s now that my old friend, Minister of Homeland Security Nicholas Dausi, apparently capitalising on the damage associated with the demos, has become turbo-charged, mouthing us Section 106(1) of the Police Act. So, the aim of government was to use the damage to get at the organisers of demonstrations!
Are the folks in government being smart of dim-witted?
The five-member Constitutional Court looking into the disputed May 21 presidential election is addressing just an event. Likewise, the anti-Jane Ansah protests that rocked all the four cities—Blantyre, Lilongwe, Zomba and Mzuzu as well as Karonga and other districts are also a mere episode.
If teargas, handcuffs, guns or even Dausi’s class action lawsuit can address the bad side of such episodic occurrences, it is my conviction that such tools aren’t adequate, let alone sufficient, in addressing the real cause of the lack of cohesion that has seen the Malawi nation divided and pulling in different directions.
Before 1994 our differences were more or less ideological—one group wanted the one-party system, another group wanted the multiparty system. The latter prevailed only because they were in majority. In democracy, the majority rules.
But after 1994 when virtually everybody joined the multiparty bandwagon, the conflict shifted to the national cake which belongs equally to the 17.5 million Malawians.
Since then elections have been more about acquiring political powers in order to control the economy than they’ve been about serving the larger national good. To be in government is to become rich, politically powerful and to decide the destiny of all Malawian.
Conversely to be in Opposition is to be poor, politically inconsequential and to sit and watch even when the only country we all call home is subjected to cronyism, corruption and mediocrity.
Unfortunately, with the first-past-the-post system, rarely do we have a President elected by the majority of the voters. It’s usually the minority of the voters giving a President the mandate to govern.
Those who benefit from such a system are ready to defend it with all they have. Likewise, those who are alienated by the system are ready and willing to fight it to the very end.
Unless the issue of presidential mandate is properly addressed and unless those in government are ready and willing to adhere to the tenets of good governance–transparency and accountability—I’m afraid, we’re losing the capacity to transfer power peacefully through the ballot.