Malawi President Joyce Banda has clocked 100 days in office. She was sworn in on April 7 2012 following the death of Bingu wa Mutharika. George Mhango speaks to Dr Augustine Magolowondo, regional programme coordinator for Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) who briefly assesses President Joyce Bandaâ€™s performance.
Â Q: What is your brief assessment of JBâ€™s leadership on governance and rule of law?
A: Given where we are coming from, it is clear that she has started off very well. She seems to have a good feeling of the challenges and pains the country had been going through. The repealing or reversing those anti-democratic legislations that were passed by her predecessor and the opening up of the public media are some of the examples. She has demonstrated a willingness to consult, listen and open up to constructive criticism. All these are positive indications of democratic governance. Of course, they are also the easier things to do in politics.
The challenge lies in walking the talk. When the opposition starts being very critical of her administration, will the public media still be open? When some start to challenge her candidacy for the 2014 elections, will she still offer them space? I think we need to have some guarded optimism. 100 days are not enough to truly know who JB is as far as issues of democratic leadership are concerned. For now, things seem to be going in the right direction.
Q: What is your impression on separation of powers among the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature?
A: Malawi has a hybrid political system with elements of both presidential and parliamentary system fused. Thus, even by constitutional design, there are some overlaps between and among the three arms of government. However, historically, the presidency has been more powerful than the other two arms. We see this even now. For instance, the way the issue of Section 65 is being handled shows that even if the Speaker of Parliament was to act, the holding of any by-election would be at the mercy of the Executive. Similarly, Parliament can only convene only if the Speaker consults with the Head of State.Â
Q: Is it right for her not to disclose her assets as required by law since she is now the President?
A: In the spirit of transparency and accountability, I think it is absolutely necessary that the President should disclose her assets. She may have done so when she was VP but just as she had to take another oath of office when she assumed the presidency, I think Malawians deserve to know JB now as President even with regard to her wealth or lack thereof. Let me add here that we do, however, have a problem with this particular law of disclosure as in my view, it does not really serve its purpose well. Ideally, disclosure of assets by public officers should be public and regular.
Q: Are JBs speeches since April 2012 unifying Malawians or used as a tool to vent anger on her adversaries?
A: In general, she has been trying to unify. Of course, she also has a responsibility of correcting mistakes of the past.
Q: What is your take on the strength of the opposition parties taking into account that JB has appointed ministers from all of them and MCP leader John Tembo seems to be comfortable with the status quo?
A: Two things can be said here. First, it was inevitable that the President had to reach out if she had to govern effectively. She started her presidency from a point of weakness as far as politics is concerned. She may have had the constitutional mandate but in politics, numbers are important. Besides, it is clear that she also has her eyes set on 2014. Any serious politician would not work to strengthen any adversary. She, therefore, was quite aware, in my view, that her reaching out to the opposition would be a double edged saw; it would allow her govern while at the same time throwing the opposition off balance. That is politics. The ball is in the court of the opposition parties. They have to decide and decide quickly how they would like to approach the next elections. By being part of the administration now, they should also be prepared to share both the credit and the blame in case of any mistakes that will be made in the process. Second, I think the current set-up is temporary. I do not see how it can politically be feasible for those who would like to contest against the PP or the current President to continue being part of the government as we near the campaign period.Â
Q: What about the intra party democracy in the ruling Peopleâ€™s Party (PP)?
A: That will be the immediate challenge that the party has to deal with. They have to hold a convention soon to ensure that those in the leadership positions are there through elections. As I said, this will also be a litmus test for the Presidentâ€™s democratic credentials. Already, public statements have been made to the effect that those that are currently joining the PP should not be eying any positions. Such statements may mean that the democratic space within the party may soon be narrowing. Let us wait and see. Of course, PP is in a privileged position whereby the writing is on the wall as to what it means when the party is not internally democratic.
Q: Should JB consider local polls with urgency or are we better off without councillors?
A: If we talk about respecting the Constitution and rule of law, local government is not a policy choice. It is part of the Constitution and this must be respected. Thus, it is long overdue that Malawi had local government elections.
Q: Has she handled the issue of same sex marriage well or it is something that is haunting her leadership?
A: I think the President was quick when she advocated for repeal of the law that criminalises same sex marriage given the nature of Malawi society. No wonder, she threw the ball back into the realm of the public by saying that this issue has to be debated in Parliament. Obviously, she was backtracking on her earlier position (of wanting to have the law repealed). This issue is very sensitive. Even in the so called established democracies, there is no consensus.
Q: Where could President Joyce Banda improve more?
A: She has to tread carefully with respect to the way she deals with the international community to avoid creating an impression that she is being overly influenced by the international community instead of what Malawians really want. In my view, it has been unfortunate, for instance, that some very important decisions of the President had been announced either while she is outside Malawi or have been announced by members of the international community.
Q: What have been the Presidentâ€™s strengths?
A: Her ability to project herself as a servant of the people. Her appeal to every leader to be a servant of the people. She is accessible and she demonstrates the willingness to listen.Â
Q: Any last remarks?
A: I wish the President well!