The media’s keen interest in intra-party democracy is predicated on the premise that parties that are undemocratic cannot be expected to champion and promote democratic forms or processes of governance when they are in charge of the government machinery. Blessings Chinsinga and Gerald Chigona (2010) underscore the gospel truth in this statement in their Executive Summary of ‘The State of Intra-party Democracy in Malawi: A Comparative Audit of Selected Party Constitutions’ a study they conducted.
It is largely on this basis that the media—as the fourth estate—in its self-proclaimed but noble role of providing checks and balances on the political system will always take a keen interest in the state of intra-party democracy. More so for those political parties which carry people’s hopes that they are a government-in waiting.
Such a political party in Malawi is the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). Many look up to MCP as providing an alternative to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). This view was affirmed by the outcome of the October 17 2017 by-elections, when MCP swept all but one seat in the three parliamentary and three ward councilor elections. Not only did MCP trounce DPP in areas traditionally deemed sympathetic to it—Nsanje—MCP triumphed despite the gargantuan resources that DPP splurged out in the area owing to its incumbency advantage.
It is precisely on this basis that many people are now keenly following the goings-on in MCP. And this week saw a resurgence of conflicts in MCP when four senior party leaders—allegedly authored a letter criticising their party president—Lazarus Chakwera. One official has since disassociated himself from the document. The others, including MCP vice-president Richard Msowoya have admitted authoring it. And this is the basis of this write-up.
As the second-in-command in the party, one would have expected Msowoya to exhaust all channels of communicating his misgivings to his boss before resorting to writing a letter. Are things so bad between the two that Msowoya could not even just pick a phone a phone and say, bwana, can we talk, even if it is Chakwera in the wrong? I may not be very familiar with MCP’s procedures for communication but as the two most senior members of the party, I expect them to be talking to each other all the time. I therefore have good reason to be apprehensive that Msowoya had to pen his boss on an issue he was not happy about.
Admitted Msowoya may not be a very happy man with the turn of events that Chakwera brought into the party former minister and business mogul Mohammad Sidik Mia. But isn’t that what MCP and all other parties should be doing with elections around the corner? Maintain an open-door policy and continue on the trajectory of rebuilding the party?
For all we know, Mia is currently a mere member of the party who has merely expressed interest to vie for the position of vice-president at the convention. But again that is what anyone could do when positions in the party are up for grab. In all democratic parties, party positions are not permanent positions. If I were Msowoya with due respect to him, I would just have humbled myself and said, OK thank you, let us meet at the convention. Meanwhile, he would just have been garnering support to retain the position. Washing dirty linen in the public—for that is what it has come to now—should not have been anywhere near his strategy for expressing his unhappiness.
Even if the issue is about the running-mate, as we all know, being vice-president of the party does not guarantee one to be a running-mate. It is the prerogative of the presidential candidate to choose a running-mate.
I would thus not fault Chakwera for bringing Mia on board the MCP ship. The MCP constitution, I am sure, has clear mechanisms for ushering in transformation. Chakwera has seen Mia as having the valour, spine and backbone to help propel MCP to greater things.
Msowoya should also admit he had his chance as a running-mate in the 2014 elections but the result is not what the MCP fraternity desired. In the interest of promoting intra-party democracy, therefore, my advice to Msowoya is that he should swallow humble pie and not even challenge Mia to the party’s vice-presidency. Stepping aside would not be detracting from the fact that he remains a vital tool for rebuilding the party.
Msowoya should also be wary of playing into the devil’s hands. But it all depends on whether he still has passion for MCP. Where I come from upstream of Chamuyagha, which flows into Chamuthyethye which empties its water into the great Dwambazi River, they say, Kauzganga ni fwiti chara; fwiti ni tilinganenge (Advice given in good faith). All said, I still have great respect for Msowoya.
As for Chakwera being in the driving seat, he should urgently sit all senior disgruntled members down and amicably resolve the problems as a matter of urgency.
I will end with what I started with. MCP should try as much as possible to exude democratic values that will instill confidence among the voters that once in power the party will champion and promote democratic forms or processes of governance. n