On March 19, thousands of Malawians convened at Kamuzu Institute for Sports in Lilongwe to witness the signing of a political alliance between major opposition parties—Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party.
MCP and UTM, alongside seven other parties—People’s Party (PP), Alliance for Democracy (Aford), Malawi Forum for Unity and Development (Mafunde), Umodzi Party (UP), People’s Progressive Movement (PPM), People’s Transformation Party (Petra) and Freedom Party (FP)—believe they have an alliance that can reform Malawi’s political system.
The supporters of the allied parties chanted Tsogolo Lathu Labwino, Lowala, Lafika [Our bright and prosperous future is here] as MCP president Lazarus Chakwera and his UTM Party counterpart Saulos Chilima pledged to “save” the country from political malaise that has characterised the governing Democratic Progressive Party’s rule.
“We [MCP and UTM] have decided to unite and bring together all our strengths and capabilities to rescue this country from those destroying it. We want to change things in many areas,” Chilima said.
Concurred Chakwera in his address at the ceremony: “This is your alliance. However, know that the change you require won’t be given to you on a silver platter. You will have to demand it, so demand and make sure that you get it.”
A brief stroll down memory lane reveals that this is not the first time a political party in multiparty democracy has made such bold and grand claims, during an election period, to stamp out corruption.
Former President Bingu wa Mutharika in 2004 ditched the then governing United Democratic Front (UDF), the party that sponsored and supported his ascent to power, on the premise that he wanted to stamp out corruption.
He said he could not effectively root out institutionalised corruption while governing with the same people in UDF that were perceived to be sponsoring and benefiting from the proceeds of corruption.
Ironically, in Bingu’s second term of office, vice-president Joyce Banda quit the DPP, citing disillusionment with the party’s lack of respect for the rule of law and perceived corrupt practices.
As fate would have it, Banda became State President following Mutharika’s death in 2012. A year into her reign, news of gross looting of public funds, also known as Cashgate, broke and some senior officers in her government and party were implicated.
In 2014 came Peter Mutharika and his Vice-President Saulos Chilima with yet another pledge to reform the public service and stamp out the corruption that flourished during Banda’s brief tenure at State House.
Six years down the line, corruption is still as rampant as it has ever been.
Paradoxically, both Mutharika and Chilima have gone on to partner with the “corrupt” regimes they sought to replace. Mutharika is in league with the UDF while Chilima is with Banda and her PP in the MCP-UTM alliance.
To cap it all, both the governing DPP-UDF alliance and opposition MCP-UTM alliance have shown a blatant disregard for the rule of law. Not a single party has declared their source of funding in accordance with the Political Parties Act.
Three weeks ago, our sister newspaper Nation on Sunday reported that the DPP and MCP failed to present audited financial reports on how they used State funds they received in compliance with the Act.
The inclusion of people implicated in previous cases of corruption in the alliances, coupled with the parties’ disregard for the Political Parties Act, drew criticism from some sections of the public amid concerns that they are not fully committed to the reforms they are touting.
However, political analysts have allayed those concerns, saying it is too early to question the political alliances commitment to reforming the country’s dysfunctional governance systems and stamp out institutionalised corruption based on their conduct at party level.
Chancellor College political scientist Mustapha Hussein said the fact that all the regimes that have governed in the democratic dispensation have been associated with corruption places the onus on the country’s governance institutions to champion the fight against fraud.
“There is a difference between what the politicians say and what they do. In that regard, our trust in the fight against corruption should be with institutions of governance such as the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Ombudsman National Audit Office, Judiciary and Parliament even though we need political leadership,” he said.
Concurring with Hussein, another Chancellor College political scientist Ernest Thindwa said considering the difficult nature of governance, Malawi would need quality leadership presiding over robust governance institutions to stamp out financial mismanagement.
He said: “A quality leader who is committed to the develop Malawi would ensure that these institutions of governance are operating effectively and are carrying out their mandates even when there is incapacity inherent within them. If the leadership is rotten, it tends to cascade to all sectors of the society.”
In that regard, Thindwa said the lack of quality leadership inherent in the “current political class” would undermine Malawi’s prospect of having a government that promotes integrity and the rule of law.
On his part, Lilongwe-based political analyst George Pumbwa said the parties disregard for the Political Parties Act would defeat its purpose of eradicating illicit financing.
He said these illicit financial flows from government to political parties would be more prominent if the parties took out loans to fund their campaigns.
Said Pumbwa: “So, in that regard, one would assume that when they get that money, it would follow that they would want to offset their loans once they assume leadership of the State.
“So, in offsetting the loans, we get a lot of cases of corruption because they would want to get the money from the government or public funds in order to pay off their loans.”
However, he said that the political alliances’ conduct at party-level should not be used to measure their capacity to govern with integrity once they assume leadership of the State.
Said Pumbwa: “What matters if the parties entering these political alliances have guiding protocols of the alliance. If the parties entering into the alliance put in place guiding protocols and stringent measures to ensure that people who were implicated in corruption cases in the past, then it is possible to contain corruption and fraud.”
He has since urged political parties to comply with the Political Parties Act to inspire confidence among the electorate and promote governance in accordance with the rule of law.
As we approach the fresh presidential election in July, Malawians will be hoping that whichever alliance they elect into office will implement the necessary reforms. Or will it be the same old story come the next election in 2025? Only time will tell.