Malawi needs a strong opposition to provide necessary checks and balances to government. But so far, it does not look like the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) fits the bill. The former ruling party does not give hope if the people who have so far expressed interest to contest for the party’s top job are anything to go by.
DPP is set to elect a president to replace Peter Mutharika who announced that he intends to step aside after losing the June23 court-sanction presidential elections. Following this announcement, seven DPP members have expressed interest to vie for the party’s presidency at the yet-to-be-announced elective national convention. But they are all from one region and to make it worse, over 70 percent of them from the Lhomwe belt which is home of DPP’s founding leader the late Bingu wa Mutharika and his brother the immediate past State president Peter Mutharika.
Those who have joined the race for the DPP presidency are former central bank governor Dalitso Kabambe, former Cabinet ministers Kondwani Nankhumwa, Joseph Mwanamvekha, George Chaponda and Charles Mchacha—all from the Lhomwe belt. Others are Bright Msaka from Machinga and Benedict Mbewe.
Another name that has been coming up is that of former Cabinet minister and legislator Ben Phiri also from the Lhomwe belt. Although the MP has distanced himself from the campaign, the point remains that so far only DPP members from one region are being associated with the campaign for the party’s presidency. Now there is a big problem for the party with this development.
The problem is that the domination of candidates from one region or tribal belt creates the perception, whether wrongly or rightly, that DPP is a party for one region or one ethnic base.
In politics, perception matters. Perception is what makes or breaks candidates or political parties. Perception is what political party manifestos are all about. Manifestos are about the future which you cannot tell with certainty. Politicians take advantage of this uncertainty and use it to their benefit. They lie about what they want to do in the future. You cannot hold them to account for what they only intend to do in future. But lies usually have quick benefits. And that is all that politicians want. Once they reap those quick benefits, they move on. Even when they fail to fulfill those promises they still get away with it because implementation of manifestos is another kettle of fish altogether.
The fact that the campaign for the party’s highest position has not attracted any party member or any individual from the Central or Northern regions should be of great concern to any DPP member who wishes the party well. With all candidates from one region or tribal belt, DPP should forget about remaining a party with a national outlook. More so now that it is out of government and has no access to public positions and resources which would make the party attractive to supporters and sympathisers.
It is obvious that the DPP should not expect to have a national outlook if its leadership is restricted and clustered in a particular region or ethnic grouping. Evidently such a development will also restrict the party’s popularity and support base. It’s as simple as that.
Someone should rise above self-serving interests and fight for the bigger good of the party and democracy. Someone should deliberately encourage and facilitate people from other regions to join the race for the party’s presidency. Difficult as it may look, it is the right thing to do for the DPP.
DPP has many lessons to draw from. Once upon a time, the Alliance for Democracy (Aford) was a national party both in its support base and outlook with leadership positions and membership spread across all the regions. But this was before the founders’ syndrome crept in. When it did and the party’s leadership was restricted to, and resources controlled by the founder, the party’s support base also became confined initially to one region and then to just a few districts or places.
Once upon a time, just like Aford, the United Democratic Front (UDF) was a national party both in outlook and support base. The party’s leadership was spread across the country. The party drew its support from all districts across the country. Until the founders’ syndrome struck it. Today, the party’s president cannot even win a parliamentary seat in his constituency.
DPP is moving in the same direction. The founders’ syndrome is catching up with it fast. Members from the same region and tribal origin won’t let the party’s leadership slip to other regions.
Why should DPP’s strength or lack of it bother me?
What should be of interest to the nation is that only a strong opposition in and outside Parliament can provide checks and balances to government. A strong opposition can also provide alternative policies and propose legislation for the good of the country. The flip side is that a government with a weak and disorganized opposition has all the potential of growing into an autocratic regime which has no regard for democratic values and rule of law. That is not the Malawi we want 57 years after independence.