That the newly-elected Public Affairs Committee (PAC) executive plans to lobby Parliament to pass the electoral reforms bill should be good news to all Malawians who yearn for a robust and functioning democracy.
PAC rightly noted that if Parliament acted in the interests of Malawians and passed the bill in 2017, Malawi would not have had the political unrest and violence we have witnessed since the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) declared Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Peter Mutharika as the President of Malawi in May 21 polls.
A run-off vote between Mutharika and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential hopeful Lazarus Chakwera would have allowed Malawians to elect a ‘popular’ president who would have been accepted by most; hence, the sense of frustration and dejection we have witnessed since May 21 wouldn’t have been so pronounced.
There is a lot of merit in this argument, but it has one fundamental flaw. It is predicated on the erroneous assumption that Malawian’s discontent expressed in this post-election period can be solved by having a President with a popular mandate alone.
Admittedly, the fact that APM won with a weak mandate contributed to the discontent, but it would be wrong to assume that is was the most prominent, let alone the sole reason for Malawians’ frustrations.
The unprecedented union between Malawians from four different parties was motivated by something much greater than partisan interests. Malawians broke party ranks and united against APM’s contentious election simply because they are fed up with the current regime’s perceived culture of corruption, cronyism and impunity.
This culture of impunity has nothing to do with how a President was elected, but it has everything to do with how the said presidents act when they assume power. If we are going to improve our democracy, we need a more pervasive form of political reforms.
The political malaise that has crippled our fledgling democracy is a result of a myriad of factors, including but not limited to; the lack of distinction between party and state machinery, and the subsequent concentration of power within the governing parties.
Presidents and their governing parties in Malawi are just afforded too much power to allow for a clear and impartial oversight on their conduct during their terms of office.
It is common practice here for heads of State to appoint members of Cabinet from their own parties. Sometimes, even the Judiciary, which is supposed to be an independent interpreter of the law, is saddled with a Minister of Justice and an Attorney General from the governing party.
And when all the Cabinet, most of the members of Parliament and some of the top Judiciary personnel come from one political party, it concentrates too much power on an exclusive group of people, who more often than not have narrow personal and political aspirations that undermine their capacity to safeguard and promote national interests.
Add to the fact that Malawi has no Senate to act as a check against this “obscene” concentration of power, the governing party, which at this point becomes the State for all intents and purposes, does as it wishes without any fear of reprisal or recrimination.
This is the problem Malawians should focus its attention on. It would be incredibly naïve to expect that a President with a popular mandate would automatically and willingly act in the best interests of Malawians.
If former president Bingu Wa Mutharika’s terms of office are anything to go by, a popular mandate only serves to embolden presidents to a point where they start perceiving themselves to be demigods.
Bingu, who in his first term impressed over 60 percent of Malawians with his economic reforms, turned out to be arguably one of the worst dictators since the advent of democracy.
Ironically, the success he enjoyed in his first term of office occurred when he had a strong and vibrant opposition providing oversight on his government. The opposition, with their strength in numbers, managed to rein in his autocratic tendencies throughout that term.
PAC has done a commendable job in reviving these political reforms. However, Malawi will remain a dysfunctional democracy until stakeholders in the political and legal sectors find ways to strengthen government agencies’ capacity to provide oversight on the presidency.