So, the Electoral Commission (EC) has announced that it will not hold the by-elections in Lilongwe and Dedza. This in spite of an earlier commitment by the same EC to hold the by-elections on 6 June 2017. According to media reports, the EC cannot proceed to hold the by-elections because it has not received the funding required for the purposes of holding the by-elections. The total bill for holding the four by-elections is roughly estimated at slightly over K400million. This is very sad and depressing news.
Fellow countrymen, as others have noted, sovereignty is more than just having a national anthem and a flag. Using a metaphor often used in connection to human development, I would say sovereignty is almost akin to one’s coming of age. Once one has come of age, it is expected that one will bear the responsibility that comes with adulthood. A failure to do so is, for good reason, greeted with derision and the person involved disdained.
Now, what is this baloney about the Government failing to provide funds for the EC to hold by-elections? Really? Seriously? I find this inexcusable. It does not matter to me that there are assurances that the by-elections will be held before the end of the year. The vacancies requiring the by-elections ought to have been filled as a matter of urgency, that is if we really cared about the representation of our fellow countrymen in the National Assembly or the relevant District Councils. Delays in holding the by-elections entail that the affected citizens continue without the direct representation that our laws provide for.
Let us remind each other again, it is over twenty years since we made the transition to multiparty democracy, and over fifty years since we attained political independence. There have been many sad moments, and perhaps precious few, happy moments for us as a nation along the way. One of the sad occurrences is how we have chosen to allow other people pay for our democracy. Routinely, the holding of our General Elections has had to rely on donor funds. Elections are central to any democracy, and if we really want to claim to be sovereign, perhaps we should ‘man up’ – excuse the misogyny, if any, in the phrase – and take the tab for elections, and here I mean all elections in the country. Is it not ironic that our leaders can pontificate about our independence and sovereignty yet they cannot organise resources necessary for the sustenance of democracy in the country?
Democracy, fellow countrymen, is not cheap. As a matter of fact, there has already been a very steep price paid for the dispensation we live in presently. In extreme cases, patriots had to give up their lives for the freedoms that we are enjoying now. Some patriots were forced to live in exile for a long period of time while others suffered arbitrary detention. The sacrifices that were made on behalf of this country were for a reason. In part, the reason was that we, the citizens, should benefit from a functioning democracy. It is an affront to the sacrifices made on behalf of this country to deliberately and callously undermine the democracy that we are striving to build.
I hope, and I am also prepared to say a prayer if it comes to that, that the powers that be are not trying to buy time so that some donor, or as in the current lingua, development partners, will come forward and take the bill for the postponed by-elections. Exercising the rights that are connected to political participation comes with a price tag. By choosing the system of governance that we chose, we undertook to meet the cost attached to the system. It is outright embarrassing to start raising excuses, in the midst of the process, if I may say. Look, these excuses give plenty of ammunition to those who doubt the sincerity of the Government’s commitment to democratic governance in the country. In the case of the postponed by-elections, one may very well be persuaded to side with those who think that the current Government is deliberately dragging its feet because the seats to be filled are in what are perceived to be opposition areas.
I am insulted, if my Government wishes to assert its sovereignty, even over pointless issues, but still cannot pick the tab for as simple an exercise as the holding of by-elections. The total bill at issue here, even if we put it at K500million is just slightly over $600 000 dollars – not even $1million folks! Think about it! Shame. Indeed, there are many priorities that our Government must juggle but that is the very reason why we have a Government in place.