Now that all the presidential aspirants have chosen their running mates, it is time to reflect on their capabilities and the rationale of letting one or few people to choose them. Constitutionally, a running mate becomes the vice-president when a political party wins an election. They walk in the shadow of the president. It is important that a running mate should be someone who can lead and take the nation to the next level in the event that the president is incapacitated or dies.
It is difficult to see how some presidential candidates can convince the electorate that their running mate team can lead Malawi to prosperity. A running mate should be someone who is experienced enough in the affairs of the State and knows what leadership is all about. Looking at many of the running mates, they do not give much hope that they can lead effectively. In fact, we can have a serious leadership crisis if the president is incapacitated or dies.
Leadership is not as simple as many think. Education alone is not enough! There is a difference between leadership and management. Unfortunately, many people erroneously equate management with leadership. Leadership is much more complex than management because many of the leadership traits are inborn. Among them are vision, character (principles), passion, inspiration, discernment, self-discipline, responsibility and servanthood. A person may be a good manager (technically competent), but poor leader and may be a good leader but poor manager. There are few people who can lead effectively. Everyone knows that Malawi is a sad story of failed leadership.
This leads to an important question. Who should choose the running mate? Should it be the president, the national executive or the convention? Political parties in Malawi have not given the issue of running mate a serious thought. Section 80 (3) of the Constitution states that every presidential candidate shall declare who shall be his or her First Vice-President if he or she is elected at the time of his or her nomination. The section does not imply that presidential candidates should be hand-picking their running mates. There is need for democratic and competitive way of choosing a running mate because it is an important position which should not be left in the hands of a party president or members of the executive committee.
A party president is given the leeway to choose a running mate under the assumption that they should choose someone they are comfortable working with. A good leader should have the capacity to work with whoever is chosen as running mate at the convention. Since both belong to the same political party it means they share common values, beliefs, goals, vision etc. Unfortunately, Malawian leaders do not learn from past mistakes of Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika that imposing candidates has divisive effects.
It is important that members of a political party should be involved in choosing a running mate in an open and democratic manner at a convention. This is not only good for intra-party democracy, but it avoids party members from becoming disgruntled, alienated or sidelined with the decision of one person or few people like what has happened in PP whereby Khumbo Kachali and other senior members have sulked because of Joyce Banda’s decision to appoint Sosten Gwengwe as running mate. The negative reaction among PP members is a sign that they do not approve of Banda’s choice. If people within a party doubt a running mate’s leadership capabilities, what hope do Malawians have? The same goes for UDF and DPP.
A running mate should be someone who is acceptable by a broader membership of the party. A running mate who is chosen at a convention has more legitimacy and easy to market than someone who has been handpicked whether within or outside the party. People are more committed to implementing something they have contributed to the decision making than imposed on them. At least MCP has appointed Richard Msowoya who is already a vice-president of the party and was elected at the convention. He, therefore, enjoys the support of MCP rank and file.
While it is acceptable that the youth should also participate in the affairs of the State they should not be given positions on a silver platter. They should express interest for political office and compete for political positions at the convention. And this is where political parties have failed in Malawi. They do not encourage intra-party democracy whereby party members choose leaders (including a running mate) at the convention. For example, Saulos Chilima has just been picked from the blues as running mate to Peter Mutharika.
If political parties want the youth to take an active role in politics, they should be groomed for leadership by reserving certain positions in the party for the youth. They should grow in the system, and learn what leadership and politics is. Unfortunately, Malawian political parties youth wings are used for violence against political opponents such as what UDF and DPP used to do. The youth themselves should be vying for political positions in parties and as members of Parliament. You cannot just handpick someone from nowhere as a running mate. This is an important position that requires a politically mature person.
Again, it is myopic to think that because a running mate is young that would automatically translate into votes or because the presidential candidate is young then he has leadership skills. There are many members of Parliament who are young, but they do not contribute anything in Parliament. They cannot even inspire their own constituents to achieve community goals. Moreover, voting itself is a complex phenomenon. Many factors influence voting decisions such as regionalism, tribalism, beliefs, preferences, attitudes and perceptions. It is proverbial that the Central Region is predominantly MCP, so neither Chapola nor Chilima, both of whom come from Centre, can wrestle votes from MCP. The 2014 elections will be closely contested. The quality of a running mate will obviously be one of the factors. Malawians deserve better leaders.