Peace after elections is what all stakeholders in an election look forward to. Unfortunately, attaining it is a far cry. In addition, it is easier to promise to preach it to members and supporters than preaching it.
What we have seen so far is that upholding peace after an election is contingent upon certain issues. Some of them are transparency and fairness in the execution of the electoral process, space for all contestants to campaign freely and a level-playing field for all contestants in terms of accessing public resources. In short, stakeholders want integrity in the management of the electoral process for credibility of results and to attain peace.
If these principles are absent, forget it. No amount of sensitisation will bring peace. No amount of money stakeholders may invest in the electoral process will procure peace. Peace is a far cry if one group suspects the system is short-changing it. I guess it’s only fair.
This is the situation we have gone through in Malawi before and during the official campaign, on the polling day, during vote counting, tabulation and announcement of the results in the last elections. The whole electoral space was poisoned with violence. Cars were torched. Supporters of opponents hacked each other. But not a single suspect has been arrested for the crimes. Clashes over venues for campaign rallies, many of them orchestrated by city and district councils, were the order of the day.
It is common knowledge that the playing field was not level as it favoured some candidates against others. How the public broadcaster conducted itself—favouring the ruling party against the opposition—is just one example of fuelling post-election violence.
This is because the law enforcement system is dysfunctional. It is worse during campaign. Relying on the Malawi Police Service (MPS) to swiftly investigate and prosecute assailants involved in political violence is day dreaming. Especially if the suspects belong to the ruling party.
Such things choke the political environment and breed hatred, suspicion and distrust among contestants and their supporters.
This week, results of a survey on the cost of politics in Malawi, jointly conducted by Michigan University, Aarhus University, Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI) and Westminster Foundation for Democracy confirmed what we have all along believed that vying for political office in Malawi is damn expensive.
Ironically, large numbers of people still try their luck on politics. Some constituencies in the last elections had as many as 17 candidates. Why such large numbers?
Many people are attracted to political offices for what they want to get from them than to serve the people. Former president Bakili Muluzi used to say politics is investment. True to Muluzi’s statement, people have seen how political offices have transformed some people who only a few months before could barely afford a minibus fare into instant billionaires.
This has cemented the view that politics is a lucrative business. That is why some candidates go as far as selling houses to raise money for campaign. Those who have money are ready to spend it on campaign knowing they will get it back once in government. This poisons the political space besides fuelling corruption.
All electoral stakeholders such as political parties and Nice-Trust went round the country preaching peace during the campaign period preparing people for any outcome of the elections. But there has been no peace in Malawi since May 21 2019. Those who felt short-changed during the electoral process took the matter to court.
And as hearing of the case is now nearing conclusion, several groups have been impressing on stakeholders to prepare their supporters for any outcome. They include the Malawi Law Society (MLS), the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust, Britain and South Africa-based Malawian prophet Shepherd Bushiri, who heads the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG).
On their part, the political parties, notably Malawi Congress Party and UTM Party have been assuring Malawians that they are using their structures to reach out to their supporters with the message of peace after the judgment. But they have put a caveat. They are banking their hope on what they call “justice from the courts for peace to prevail”, where justice means winning the case. It means that if they lose, the country will be plunged into chaos again. All said, the assurance from political parties that they are preparing their members for either a positive or negative judgement is tongue-in-cheek. No political party is preaching peace.