- The Nation poll interviewed 122 out of 193 MPs
- MCP, PP lead ‘Yes’ vote
- DPP, UDF lead in ‘No’ decision
If a bill were introduced in the National Assembly today on whether or not Malawi should be a federal State as others advocate, 61.5 percent of members of Parliament (MPs) would reject it, according to The Nation poll of legislators.
The poll—conducted over a two-week period ending yesterday—sampled 122 of the 193 legislators.
Of the respondents, 75 MPs (61.5 percent) said they would vote against federalism while (30) or 24.5 percent said they would support it and 17 (14 percent) were undecided.
The poll was conducted by telephone, short message service (SMS) and electronic mail (e-mail).
By party representation, the survey reached 42 MPs from the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), 15 from former president Joyce Banda’s People’s Party (PP), 30 from Malawi Congress Party (MCP), eight from United Democratic Front (UDF) and 27 independents.
Besides seeking to know whether they support calls for federalism, The Nation also further requested the MPs to justify their viewpoint.
However, we failed to interview the remaining 71 MPs because their phones were either perpetually busy, unavailable or did not text back our SMSs.
Two of the 71 fervidly refused to discuss anything whereas one cut the line immediately the subject was introduced and as we went to press, some had not responded to our e-mails after failing to get them through phone.
Similarly, we did not manage to get the views of the sole MPs for Alliance for Democracy (Aford) and Chipani cha Pfuko (CCP), Enock Chakufwa Chihana and Davis Katsonga respectively, as well as Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya.
At regional level, out of the 42 MPs interviewed in the Southern Region—considered to be DPP’s stronghold—41 were against federalism and one was undecided.
In the Eastern Region covering Zomba, Machinga, Balaka and Mangochi, 17 respondents were interviewed out of whom 14 said no to federalism and three were unsure.
In the Central Region, politically monopolised by the official opposition MCP, the survey revealed that from the 39 MPs interviewed, 15 (38.5 percent) supported the system. Those against the system and the undecided shared 12 votes apiece.
Predominantly, people from the Northern Region are thought to be the vocal proponents of federalism and that was reflected in the results.
Out of the accessed 24 MPs from the North, 15 were for the system, representing 62.5 percent of the respondents, while eight said they did not want it and one was undecided.
–How parties stand–
Toeing their party’s stand, the majority of MCP and PP legislators were in support of the system, with 50 percent of MCP respondents ticking ‘yes’ and only 10 disagreeing with it. Five were undecided.
Of the 15 PP MPs we talked to, nine were for the system while three were undecided and three more were against the proposal.
In UDF, seven out of eight MPs interviewed were not for federalism, none supported it and only one was undecided.
The UDF’s picture was more or less similar to that of the governing DPP. Out of 42 DPP MPs, only one supported federalism with four being undecided—meaning that 37 (88 percent) rejected the system.
At national level, the majority of the respondents who were against the system argued that Malawi was a small country with limited resources and adopting federalism would only fragment the nation.
“Malawi’s economy is very small and we cannot afford to have three administrative governments in addition to the central government. This federalism system will only bring chaos, misunderstandings and eventually civil wars. We have a number of examples in Africa because of the federal systems,” said Dennis Namachekecha-Phiri, Phalombe North East MP.
But those supporting the system argued that it would strengthen decentralisation and improve accountability and transparency while ensuring equitable distribution of resources by the central government.
“The only problem is the manner in which it has been presented to Malawians as such some politicians are taking advantage to brainwash Malawians that federalism is a bad system,” explained MCP’s Horace Chipuwa of Lilongwe Mapuyu North.
Others have urged intellectuals to provide a “non-politicised definition” of federal system of government and its merits and demerits so that Malawians examine the system before making an informed choice.
“I believe the wrong approach has been taken to the whole debate. There is need for an objective definition of what a federal system of government is. Our academics need to bring some intellectual honesty and sanity to the whole debate,” said one legislator from Dedza who did not want to be identified.
Reacting to the survey, MCP publicity secretary Jessie Kabwila, whose party has officially stated it is for federalism, said the outcome of The Nation’s poll calls for the need “to harmonise our understanding of federalism system of government”.
“I think what this shows is that there is probably a gap in understanding federalism for the MPs and whether it is good or bad for our country.
“I think those results illustrate the urgent need for a much more robust approach to make people understand what federalism is and how it is different from what other people are saying, that will help a lot. I actually think the stand you have taken to try and find out the MPs’ stand is very commendable,” said Kabwila.
Also commenting on the survey, political scientist Dr Boniface Dulani said based on how the federalism debate started he was not surprised with the inclination of the results.
“The whole debate started because people from the Northern and Central regions think they are not benefiting as much from the fruits of development as is the Southern Region. But whether that is correct or not, I am not surprised that the numbers are also breaking along regional lines.
“I would not be surprised that even if we did a nationwide study involving ordinary citizens if we found similar results to the ones that you have,” said Dulani while commending The Nation for conducting the survey.
–Proponents of federation–
In the aftermath of the May 20 Tripartite Elections that ushered in power President Peter Mutharika and his DPP, there have been intensified calls from some sections of society for a federal system of government.
Proponents of federation, among them PP’s provincial governor (North) and Mzimba Hora MP the Reverend Christopher Ngwira as well as the party’s treasurer general and Mzimba West MP Harry Mkandawire, argue that federalism would ensure fair distribution of the national cake and even spread of development projects.
Naturally, sticky issues such as federation, if they were to be implemented, would have to go through Parliament for a way forward or referendum.
This is why The Nation sought individual views of MPs on how they would vote if the question of federal system of government was put to them in Parliament.
The poll was aimed at unearthing how the 193 law makers feel about the re-emerging issue amid concerns from proponents that some regions are sidelined in terms of resource sharing and public appointments.
Mutharika was the first to publicly propose federalism and proportional representation in the country eight years ago during a National Constitutional Review Conference in Lilongwe.
But of late, Mutharika appears to be walking back his comments.
During a public meeting in Mzuzu, Mutharika said political and religious leaders should not break the country with their calls for federalism because he believes in one nation, one Malawi. He had similar sentiments in Balaka last week.