Some of the trending stories in the papers in the recent past have been about occurrences in the opposition. News has plummeted about internal wrangles in the United Democratic Front (UDF) due to disagreements with the decision for the party to get into a coalition with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP); the reception of Sidik Mia into the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and about a possible electoral coalition among several political parties during the 2019 Elections.
The argument behind such political moves is always that they are in the best political interest of the party. Specifically, the admission of Mia into MCP is expected to win the party a greater section of the electorate in the 2019 elections. The anticipated mass coalition is expected to maximise support towards government change come the elections.
A point to be noted is that such decisions in political parties are mostly made by leaders and some of these leaders are elected by the parties’ members during conventions. Some leaders are in such positions by virtue of being the party’s founders or by virtue of chieftaincy-—like inheritance of party leadership from their predecessors.
Party leaders hold their positions on trust. It is expected that, ideally, the decisions they make in their parties be in the best interest of their party. This is to be understood in connection with the fact that, where very important decisions are made, they should be made after consultation with fellow leaders within the parties. This is so because the rest of the leaders also have a following in the party.
In widening the set of decision makers, decisions made reflect a more general consensus among party members.
Given this background, one would ask whether or not party leaders in the Malawian context, indeed, exercise their decision-making power in a manner that reflects the fact that they hold it on trust. One would want to know whether the decision to admit Mia into the MCP was made with the blessing of the MCP National Executive Committee given the tension the move seems to have brought in the party.
Mia may have the freedom to associate with a party of his choice, but on the other hand, the party as a whole (not just one or two members) holds the right to accord an individual admission into the party. One would wonder whether the decision that came out of the UDF to get into a coalition with the ruling DPP was made by the party as a whole or by some specific individuals. Further questions may be made to whether the decision by the New Labour Party to get into the “opposition alliance” was made by the party as whole or certain individuals as well.
The argument here is that, the governance of political parties in a democratic dispensation such as ours must reflect the environment in which the party is operating—a democratic one. Political parties must not be treated like personal property, over which the “owner” can make decisions in any manner they like.
Decisions in political parties ought to be made democ=ratically. If a leader of a particular party does not respect the ideals of democracy within their own party, they would not be expected, with absolute certainty, to respect such ideals when they attain government.
The antidote against the personalisation of political parties by their leaders rests with the ‘real’ owners of the political parties: the people. They ought to demand good governance from their leaders, not fearing them as though they own the parties. Where it is seen that the party is heading towards personal ownership, they have the duty to ensure that it remains in their ownership.
It is imperative to ensure that good governance starts within parties if democracy is to be concretised in this country. Both party leaders and party members have a duty in ensuring that democratic ideals are adhered to within political parties. n