President Peter Mutharika and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) must learn to choose their battles carefully.
Too many times, the President has taken tough stances against some policy or legislative positions, only to retreat and allow the very same thing he vehemently opposed to proceed.
I have in mind the Access to Information (ATI) law. Mutharika had demanded the removal of what proponents of the law said were crucial provisions in the Bill, claiming that they were “inconsistent”. Thus, government mutilated several sections from the Bill.
But what happened later?
After pressure from donors, civil society and the media, the Bill that went to Parliament—and which Mutharika ended up assenting to—was almost identical to the one the President had initially rejected and adulterated.
I mean, why did he waste his time and everyone else’s by fighting the Bill; rejecting then accepting the very things he found deplorable?
I can cite several other examples when the administration has flip-flopped on major issues—reversing so many decisions that one wonders whether the administration knows what it is doing.
If the DPP and the President’s handlers see this as their idea of a “listening government”, they are only succeeding in making Mutharika look indecisive and extremely weak.
That brings me to the current debate on electoral reforms.
Once again, after wasting everybody’s time dithering on the issue and giving a lot of excuses for not taking Bills to Parliament that would usher in electoral reforms; and shaken by planned demonstrations by what I consider to be the most powerful force in Malawi politics—the religious movement—the administration has jumped to push in the bills, starting with the less controversial ones.
Why did they have to wait for the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) to mobilise its affiliates and other influential groups to stage peaceful protests before working on the Bills?
What message is the President sending? That he is easily cowed by threats? That he can, with little effort, be pushed over and around? Or simply that he does not know what he is doing at State House? Mutharika is not looking good at all.
That said, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP)—the largest opposition bloc in the House and at the moment the one with the most realistic chance of replacing the DPP administration at the next general election—is behaving like a spoilt child with a misguided and misplaced sense of entitlement.
I mean, Leader of Opposition Lazarus Chakwera and his MCP have failed miserably to provide alternative leadership on the electoral reforms. All they have done is to parrot and follow like a puppy PAC’s focussed position on electoral reforms.
Today, Chakwera and his parliamentarians want to take credit for whatever legislative progress that might be made on the electoral reforms when it is PAC and other civil society groups such as the Centre for the Development of People that have done the bulk of the work.
That lazy stunt of boycotting Parliament for a day and returning to the House within 24 hours without their purported key demands being met only showed how ridiculously presumptive, politicians can become.
What MCP displayed was a pathetic attempt at re-establishing their non-existent bona fides as champions of electoral reforms.
Sure, Chakwera had threatened to walk out of Parliament if the Bills were not tabled. That was weeks ago. What took him so long to walk out? Wasn’t it convenient that he led the ridiculous boycott just after disputing a Nation on Sunday story that the party was unofficially not too keen on the electoral reforms? Whatever the end game was for the little MCP drama in the House, the truth was that it was ineffective, an attempt too cheap and juvenile to call it political grandstanding or posturing.
The truth is that this was a classic case of a three-year-old throwing himself on the floor, his little hands slapping anything around it and kicking his little legs at nothing after mum took away his favourite toy so he can go and eat.
And as you all know, it doesn’t take long before the kid’s tantrums stop, having spotted something else to play with.