Our country has entered a brief but critical phase in its democratic journey, the campaign phase for those who aspire to lead. As we enter this phase incumbent leaders and fresh aspirants should realise that we do so with heavy baggage regarding how our country has been managed in the past 24 months. Numerous requests made of our leaders have gone unanswered and proposals about the size of government wilfully neglected. Politics has become the formula for allocation of resources, large amounts abused without remorse and accountability in the process. These will influence the course of debate during the phase and after the winner is crowned.
A once vibrant civil society seems to conspire with authority, maintaining a form of conciliatory logic that both condones and defends what is morally indefensible. A recent survey through the media actually suggests that civil society has not only become irrelevant, it is so docile that it can never be trusted. It is great baggage that people’s own representatives and leaders at all levels defy or choose to misrepresent wailing voices.
Malawi has baggage manifested in intra-party politics characterised by expulsions, splinter factions, new parties, independent candidature and angry inter-party discourse creating tension incendiary enough to breach national peace. The majority of active political parties are simply offshoots and breakaway groups relating poorly with each other and charged with hatred and vengeance. All this baggage means one thing and one thing only: long simmering frustration that could explode into a volcano of unquenchable fury; and this is the context of the 2014 electioneering.
Moving forward aspirants, campaign managers and cheer leaders will do well to humble themselves and submit their violent instincts to legal obligations of electoral law. Violence such as has been seen recently only shows that some contesting parties lack political strategy and ideology to defend. Killings and maiming are events which unfortunately project failure on the part of contestants and party functionaries to take charge of their campaign operators and supporters.
It has to be recognised that violence has the potential to keep voters away, certainly women, the elderly and infirm and all those who cannot afford to get ruffled in the exercise of their birth right. Admittedly, enough has been said and done that would have put Malawians on the streets for days to show their side, and this same energy could potentially put all of them on the queue to make their statement. However, unreasonable violence in the run up to the polling day has equal potential to confine most of them to household work.
Phone-in reactions and random interviews monitored by the media show the terror that violence is already causing. As the electoral commission advised at the launch of the campaign period, honest issue-based electioneering is best for all parties. We indeed need a political contest where merit is the only basis for success; where intimidation, manipulation and emasculation of people and public conscious are firmly rejected and where challenges are addressed maturely through contact and dialogue.
Contesting leaders should learn to start the race from the reality of loss and success juxtaposed; that either way contestants remain leaders. Leaders should take pride in the fact that loss graciously accepted makes democracy the true winner, more so when peace and clam, law and order prevail to the installation of the leader.
A lot has been said about abuse of young people as perpetrators of terror and instigators of political hatred. As national leaders who are committed to democratic values and the development of a free nation, aspirants must reject use of innocent youths as agents of terror, death and destruction.
Even with heavy baggage on our shoulders peaceful elections is what Malawi needs. Rather than point fingers when things go wrong, learn to fix not the person but the problem. Malawians will vote, after all government is too big and too important to be left to politicians! n
The author is country director for Sightsavers, Malawi, writing in his personal capacity.