Political commentators have described the country’s major parties as far from being democratic because of the ‘political dynasties’ that make them more of personal “collections” than mass-parties driven by people’s agenda.
The observation comes amid reports that former president Joyce Banda is positioning her son, Roy Kachale, who is also Zomba Malosa member of Parliament (MP), to become the next leader of her People’s Party (PP) after firing its acting president Uladi Mussa.
Mussa claimed he was thrown out of the party because Banda was clearing the path for her son to take over. But Kachale and PP have both refuted the allegations.
The analysts were responding to The Nation question on what they make of a trend in political parties where sons or brothers of founding leaders tend to rise to the top, creating political dynasties.
The trend is seen in Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) where President Peter Mutharika, who is leader of DPP, succeeded his brother, the late Bingu, who founded the party. In United Democratic Front (UDF) where Atupele Muluzi also became president of the party after his father, Bakili, who co-founded it.
In the Alliance for Democracy (Aford), president Enoch Chihana is a son to the party’s founding president and pro-democracy fighter ChakufwaChihana.
Of all the country’s major political parties, perhaps the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is the only one that has not gone with the genealogy of leadership pertaining to the founder.
Political scientist Ernest Thindwa from University of Malawi’s (Unima) Chancellor College said in an interview on Sunday it was unfortunate that in Malawi political parties are not mass-parties, but personal properties.
He observed that instead of being conveyor belts between citizens and government, the political parties have become the weakest link of the country’s democracy.
Said Thindwa: “People who form political parties view them as their personal properties. They determine the leadership succession.”
On his part, another political commentator Henry Chingaipe said the country’s political parties were far from being democratic as they revolve around their founders and not membership and a set of ideas.
He said: “This is a worrisome trend. It shows and reinforces the view we have always spoken about that our political parties are less of political parties but are more of family collections or family outfits.”
Chingaipe said there was very little effective intra-party democracy and what is seen is merely “choreography and semblance of democracy”.
George Phiri, a political scientist from the University of Livingstonia (Unilia), corroborated Chingaipe and Thindwa’s views, saying the parties have not yet opened up to be parties of people.
He said: “Instead, they are parties of families. In this case, it gives us history that democracy in Malawi is not a democracy that is practised elsewhere. Our democracy is quite unique, but people have not realised that this uniqueness is harmful because it can kill political parties.”
Phiri also noted the issue of funding where parties rely entirely on founders or leaders for survival has resulted in political dynasties.
But UDF spokesperson Ken Ndanga said his party had always followed its constitution which allows anybody to contest for any position.
He said: “Any person whether an uncle, a nephew, a mother or father of any political leader who was there before has the right to contest for any position so let those who think that is not proper come up with a regulation stopping it or just challenge the leadership at a legitimate convention.”
Historian Desmond Phiri, in his recent DD Phiri Insight column published in The Daily Times bemoaned the political dynasties system arguing that under such a system a nation is served by mediocrities and not the best of the elite.
Chihana could not be reached for comment as his phone was out of reach whereas presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalilani and DPP spokesperson Francis Kasaila did not pick their phones when called. n