Two conventions involving two of the main opposition parties in the country are expected to take place this month. EPHRAIM NYONDO talks to governance and development specialist Dr Henry Chingaipe to interpret the importance of these conventions as the country drifts to 2014 general elections.
Q: MCP and DPP are expected to hold their conventions later this month. Why should Malawians, especially those that do not belong to these parties, be concerned about the outcome of these two gatherings?
A: Malawians should be concerned with both the processes and the outcomes of these political party conventions because they represent a barometer that will measure the depth and breadth of intra-party democracy.
Q: MCP has explained details of the venue, the number of expected delegates and their budget which they are struggling to raise. DPP, on the other hand, has not yet released that information. If you compare and contrast the preparation of these two conventions, does it give an impression that something free and fair will come out?
A: It is rather too early to predict how the processes in both conventions will actually transpire. It is fair, though, at this stage to say that the lack of clarity and transparency on the rules governing the processes of selecting the leaders of the DPP is rather worrisome given recent developments in the party. It is important for the organising committee and the national governing council (NGC) of the party to realise that in a democracy, it is not enough to just hold a fair selection process of party leaders. Fairness must be seen to be practised before, during and after the selection processes. Any semblance of unfairness at any stage of the process is a dent on the democratic credentials of the party.
Q: Apart from failing to maintain its political stronghold, the Central Region, MCP’s representation in Parliament continues to dwindle. Even worse, despite maintaining its purity in times of political prostitution, the party has, thrice, failed to return to government since 1994. If you analyse its history, what kind of a leader does it need now to reboot?
A: In my view, the biggest problem with MCP has been its failure to reincarnate and find a rightful foothold in the democratic dispensation. While the party has been able to change some rules and practices that were clearly repugnant to democratic politics, it has been grossly unable to provide space for new leaders to emerge. Furthermore, it has not been able to rebrand and define its new relevance to the electorate. In order to reboot, the party needs spirited change in the leadership.
Q: The DPP, trapped in the legacy of politics of terror and arrogance by the late Bingu wa Mutharika, is relatively young, though with nationwide salient structures awaiting rejuvenation. Again, what kind of leader does it need to cultivate from the convention?
A: The DPP needs a transformational leader who can show a clear break with the reign of impunity and terror that characterised its government. It needs a leader who can articulate a vision of democratic governance and inspire confidence that he can lead the effort to deliver on that vision. It needs a leader who can demonstrate that he respects the trust of the people and is less prone to the kind of Executive arrogance that characterised the DPP government. In the twilight of the DPP government, many Malawians associated the party with a particular tribal group. The perception is still strong. The party, therefore, needs a leader who can cross the tribal divide, create a national image of the party and rebrand the party in terms of its governance credentials.
Q: If you look at the power politics emerging between Henry Chimunthu Banda and Peter Mutharika in DPP, Chris Daza and John Tembo in MCP, do you see these two parties coming out of their convention stronger?
A: The conventions are an important feature of a democratic system. They are the legitimate arena for political struggles between individuals where true men and women find their measure so long as the rules of the game are clear, settled and fair. Ideally, a convention should be an event that strengthens the party as it settles all differences and creates a common vision. But this depends on the rules of the game and how they are applied. For MCP, my view at the moment is that the secretary general does not seem to be actively involved in the preparations and is waiting upon junior members of the party to feed him with information. Furthermore, it is not known whether the convention will be asked to amend the constitution to allow John Tembo to contest. Until these issues are resolved, MCP may come out weaker (with breakaway groups) or stronger. For DPP, I think the competition between Chimunthu Banda and Peter Mutharika is a healthy one. What is worrisome is the unsettled framework of rules governing the practice of the convention. If the uncertainty is left until too late, supporters of the losing candidate may cry foul and it can weaken the party if they break away. In short, both conventions represent crossroads for the parties.
Q: PP and UDF had their conventions already. DPP and MCP are having their own soon. What is your general assessment of these conventions regarding entrenching intra-party democracy in Malawi?
A: The fact that our political parties are becoming interested in holding conventions is a major step in deepening democracy, although the quality of the conventions leaves a lot to be desired. First, the parties have so far been concerned mainly with conventions where elections are held to fill party positions and mostly in view of general elections. There is need to increase the frequency of party conventions (preferably to be held annually) to discuss policy questions, receive financial reports and articulate ideological orientations of the parties. Secondly, parties must resist the temptation of keeping some positions out of contest at the conventions. Thirdly, parties must settle the question of funding because those who finance political parties clandestinely often have the potential to capture the parties and re-align the party agenda to their own selfish interests, which ultimately do not augur well with democratic aspirations.