Debate has re-emerged on whether Malawi should adopt a rotational presidency system to ensure equitable distribution of political powers across the three regions of the North, Centre and South.
Proponents of the proposal, who include Mzimba-based Ngoni Chief Inkosi ya Makhosi M’mbelwa V, believe the system would ensure geo-political balance and end allegations of nepotism.
But critics say the system would divide the country further and may breed chaos among ethnic groups within a particular region.
M’mbelwa in an interview said rotational presidency can promote peace and stability while further harmonising the political divide.
He said: “When you look at Nigeria, people there stopped fighting after adopting the rotational system. In Malawi, when you look at the population of the North and Centre, you will find that it is small, and so you find that a Northerner or someone from the Central Region cannot be President.
“So, the only way to be balanced is for the rotational system because it ensures that whichever party is there, will be forced to follow the rule. You find that even the distribution of things like development will even be fair.”
The Ngoni King thinks people in the North feel marginalised, saying: “If you look at Malawi’s political history, Kamuzu [Banda] was from the Central Region and he was in power for 31 years.
“Then came Bakili Muluzi in 1994 who has been succeeded by people from the South. By 2024, this country will have been ruled by colleagues in the Southern Region for 30 years; hence, the feeling of marginalisation by Northerners. Everybody needs to feel as a part of this country.”
Meanwhile, governing Democratic Progressive Party vice-president for the North and President Peter Mutharika’s adviser on economic issues Goodall Gondwe said in a separate interview the matter warrants a discussion, having been at the centre of discussion in the early 1990s during a constitutional review.
He said: “It was one of the issues debated during the constitutional discussions in the 90s. We need to have more discussion on this, not just in the North, but the Centre and South as well, because I strongly feel it merits a discussion among leaders in all regions to see what comes out.”
First to ignite the matter was former Mzimba Hora parliamentarian Christopher Mzomera Ngwira in December 2016. During parliamentary debate on Bill 34 of 2016: National Parks and Wildlife Amendment, he stunned the House when he said the country needed to change its governance system.
However, Senior Chief Lukwa of Kasungu feels a regional power rotation would simply be a continuous struggle by political gurus to achieve their political ambition.
He said what lacks in Malawi is not rotational leadership, but rather, clear policies and implementation mechanisms that can lift the poverty lid.
Said Lukwa: “Rotational presidency is not the solution to Malawi’s development. What we need are good policies, we are seriously lacking them right now.”
Senior Chief Makwangwala of Ntcheu also stated that rotational presidency will only deepen divisions, suggesting that the 50+1 system of electing the President remains the best solution for Malawi’s political challenges.
Senior Chief Tengani of Nsanje also stated that the country’s challenges are not a result of the current system of electing presidents.
He said: “It’s a very tricky subject, but what I am not sure if rotational presidency will help solve the socio-economic challenges affecting Malawians. We should not be compelled to copy what is happening in other countries,” he said.
On his part, Chancellor College-based political analyst Ernest Thindwa said the solution to deal with politics of discrimination, regionalism or favouritism is not rotational presidency.
He said: “We need to put in place electoral laws that ensure that for one to win, they need to have popular mandate across regions. At the moment, to go by the voting patterns, the South and Centre would rather maintain the status quo because they have a high chance of winning, which is not appropriate.
“I would have preferred we shifted from the First-Past-the-Post to parliamentary system, but that would be difficult. Therefore, the starting point should be the 50+1, because it will compel presidential candidates and incumbents to ensure they reach out to all corners of the country, and essentially that would deal with politics of regionalism and discrimination.”
Meanwhile, constitutional law expert Edge Kanyongolo has said there is nothing legal in the discussion at the moment, stating, once the discussions are concluded, lawyers are always ready to draft the law.
He said: “From the legal point of view, whatever people agree, lawyers have no difficulties in drafting the law. So, if people wanted it, lawyers would be able to draft the correct language for it. At the moment, it’s a political debate rather than a legal debate.”
In Nigeria, power is shared between the North and the South on a rotational basis. There is no legal document requiring that presidential candidates should come from any particular geographic region or religious background.
However, pundits state that any attempt to break the spirit of the agreement could cause deep divisions and potentially stoke unrest in parts of the country.
Malawi’s founding leader, Ngwazi Hastings Kamuzu Banda, originally from Kasungu in the Central Region, governed the country for 31 years under the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). Since the adoption of democracy in 1994, the country has been governed by Bakili Muluzi of United Democratic Front, Bingu wa Mutharikaof DPP, Joyce Banda of People’s Party, and, the incumbent Peter Mutharika, the late Bingu’s young brother,—all of whome are from Southern Region districtsl.