More than any other time, the campaign period for Tuesday’s fresh elections has been intriguing for many reasons. We have seen all the candidates, Peter Mutharika and his running mate Atupele Muluzi and Tonse Alliance torch bearer Lazarus Chakwera and his running mate Saulos Chilima, crisscrossing the country wooing people to vote for them. They have all been using all the tricks in the book to get votes.
Not to be outdone, in his desperate bid to win the polls, Mutharika has picked fights with the other arms of Government—the Judiciary and the Legislature. His fight with the Judiciary last Wednesday saw scores of lawyers marching in Blantyre, Zomba and Lilongwe against Mutharika’s attack on the Judiciary.
Owing to what is at stake in the fresh election, many people and institutions, some religious, have also steamed in the campaign trail. The Blantyre Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) is one such institution.
Some men of the collar from Synod have openly been wooing voters for their preferred candidate—Peter Mutharika—from the pulpit and funeral sermons.
But when four of the Synod’s church ministers stood up against the move, the Synod suspended them allegedly for flouting the institution’s rules and procedures. Unfortunately, the same Synod has not done anything to the church ministers who have been campaigning for Mutharika. Did they not flout Synod rules, proclamations and edicts? Someone flouts procedures and is suspended. Another contravenes the law (unless the Synod tells me that its clerics are allowed to electioneer to their faithful at church functions) is left scot free.
How far should church ministers go in guiding their flock about how to determine who to give their vote to? If it is not policy, what action should the Synod take when some pastors abuse their positions or act outside of church policy?
If the Synod got away with it on the issue of its clerics openly campaigning for Mutharika, it gave itself away in its letter read in all its churches last Sunday. In the letter, the Synod mentioned many good things except for one statement. The Synod said, for the position of President, people should vote for the candidate who has experience. Without going round in circles, the Synod was unequivocally telling the faithful to vote for Mutharika. Of the three candidates—the other one being Peter Kuwani of Mbakuwaku Movement for Democracy—Mutharika is the only presidential candidate in the fresh election with experience as President of this country. Now we know why the Synod could not reprimand the clerics who have been campaigning for Mutharika during church and funeral services. How can it when it is doing the same thing?
But then which experience? Which experience has Mutharika acquired that puts him ahead of the others as a better candidate? If experience is an unquestionable asset, why did the Synod not encourage its members to vote for JB in 2014 as she had experience as State President unlike Mutharika?
Perhaps more importantly, what is Malawi’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP), economic growth, private sector growth, job creation, fight against corruption, observance of rule of law and democratic governance? How has Malawi faired under Mutharika’s watch on nepotism, cronyism, tribalism, regionalism, efforts to unite the country et cetera? If Mutharika is rated poorly on these parameters, then his experience as President is valueless.
If the Synod’s letter had explained that Mutharika’s achievements on these items should speak for him, that would have been a more sober and fairer way of guiding the flock. This would have been akin to telling the faithful to make their own assessment and decide whether they have been let down or not.
Blantyre Synod or any other synod for that matter has no business choosing a political candidate for its faithful. Religious institutions can only guide. Of course, unless they choose to be insensitive to the divergent political affiliations of their members. Which would be an affront to their intelligence.