The torching on Wednesday night at Lilongwe Golf Club of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson Jessie Kabwila’s vehicle shows that Malawi is still kilometers away from warmly embracing intra- and inter-party democracy.
Granted, Kabwila has issues with her party politiburo. Just last week she and her fellow Salima legislator Felix Jumbe were chased from their party’s rally addressed by party president Lazarous Chakwera. Jumbe was also removed as Agriculture Committee chair in Parliament and allocated what he thought was a weaker position.
I am by no means imputing here the felony on Kabwila’s vehicle was masterminded by MCP. There is no evidence for that so far. The firebrand MCP spokesperson also has issues with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). She has been a thorn in the flesh of the ruling party. And she is already paying heavily for that. Alongside Lilongwe South-West fellow legislator Peter Chakhwantha, she is on bail and has to report to police every week for a treason charge, real or imagined.
So the torching of her vehicle could be the result of some sour grapes either with her party establishment or the ruling DPP could simply be making the most of the bad blood with her seniors to fuel the burning flames in a divide-and-rule fashion. DPP is not a saint. Examples are rife. An arson attempt on a Zodiak Broadcasting Station vehicle in 2011 is just one example. More recently, no sooner had the court in Lilongwe ruled that the Malawi Electrical Commission (MEC) should recount votes for a disputed Lilongwe City constituency currently held by a DPP cadre, was the electoral body’s warehouse in Lilongwe housing ballot papers gutted by fire. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to conclude who masterminded the arson and why. Many said the coincidence was just too obvious. In fact, whether it was indeed the work of the DPP or not, the savage act dented the ruling party in no small measure.
So the torching of Kabwila’s vehicle is just one of many ugly scenes Malawi is likely to experience in the coming days as a result of lack of both intra- and inter-party democracy.
But all this has its genesis in the way candidate nominations for parliamentary as well as presidential seats have been done since 2004. They have been, to say the least, undemocratic across all parties.
Party leaders, as the main financiers of their parties have wielded too much power and have been allowed to impose their anointed candidates on party members.
In 2004, primary elections for candidate nominations were mostly disputed by party members and aspirants in 2004. The courts were flooded with cases to do with primary election irregularities even before the elections took place.
The MCP, for example, was taken to court for unfair primary elections by Jodder Kanjere (RIP) (Ntcheu North East Constituency) and Jossy Nthani (Mchinji West Constituency), while the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was challenged for similar reasons by Steve Tchauya (Lilongwe North West Constituency).
It is this lack of intra-party democracy and weak party institutionalisation that have led to the formation of breakaway parties from the UDF, Alliance for Democracy (Aford) and MCP. It is for the same reason that over the years there has been growing numbers of party members standing as independent candidates.
Intra-party conflict within the UDF led to the formation of the DPP. It started in the run-up to the 2004 elections when UDF party leader Bakili Muluzi handpicked a then unpopular choice, Bingu wa Mutharika (RIP), to succeed him. The same intra-party conflict led to the formation of the People’s Party in 2011 which went into government when Mutharika died a year later.
So until we deal with weak party institutionalisation, this animal—lack of intra-party democracy—will continue to haunt us. n