Hon. Folks, since MEC announced the disputed outcome of the May 21, 2019 presidential election, Malawi has never been the same. MCP’s Lazarus Chakwera and UTM’s Saulos Chilima, major opposition contenders petitioned the courts to nullify the results that favoured DPP’s Peter Mutharika on grounds that they were fraudulent.
Over 60 percent of the electorate voted for change in the 2019 polls but APM who garnered only 38.57 percent of the votes was still declared winner thanks to the first-past-the-post system which was used despite that many in opposition supported the PAC-led campaign for a change to 50+1 system which government deliberately thwarted in Parliament.
As expected, the outcome of the presidential race was equally rejected by the majority of the voters. They could not fold their arms and wait for the court to hear the case and pass its judgment but they mobilised themselves and held demos in Blantyre, Lilongwe Mzuzu and other districts not once, not twice but several times over.
Although the demonstrators had one demand as a rallying call—the removal of Jane Ansah as MEC (Malawi Electoral Commission) Chair for allegedly presiding over fraudulent elections—political analysts, diplomats and other commentators do agree that the frequency, demographic mix and messages of the demos betrayed simmering anger and frustration with the prevailing skewed political system which does not allow for the equitable sharing of the national cake.
The multiparty system of government is like a coin with two sides—the governing and opposition sides. Together the two sides of the political divide define the kind of government Malawians overwhelmingly voted for in the historic 1993 National Referendum.
But political greed by those entrusted with power has resulted in the creation of a political caste system in Malawi whereby the phrase “serving government of the day” is exploited by the President and the governing party to reign in other pockets of powers such as the Police, traditional leaders and everyone appointed to top positions in ministries, departments and agencies of the state.
They’re required keep their distance from the opposition. So entrenched is the artificial rift that even unscrupulous business persons know that openly associating with the opposition is a sure way to lose lucrative business tenders with government. Their survival is based on bootlicking–patronising governing party’s functions while totally avoiding opposition leaders or meeting them only at night.
The opposition has virtually assumed a pariah status. MBC does not even mention it unless for the wrong reasons. The police do not protect those in opposition when attacked by governing party cadets. Chiefs, who are supposed to be non-partisan harbingers of cultural value that define and bind us together as Malawians, know better that associating with the opposition is politically immoral, a taboo that can make the political demigods of the land seethe with anger and visit them with the dreaded mswahara drought.
Those responsible for procurement in government also know that getting supplies from businesses associated with the opposition–merit or no merit–is regarded as biting the finger that feeds you. The big eye of the hiring authority neither winks nor dozes off and you risk being squashed like a mosquito is seen to be giving business to enemies of the master.
Greed has yielded a dehumanising political construct that make good people think there’s no merit in the golden rule that says: Do unto others as you’d want them do unto you. Instead, they operate on the mantra that says: an enemy of your master is your enemy, too.
Exclusion in Malawi isn’t just a factor of tribalism or regionalism but also—and probably more so—a factor of political allegiance.
The consequences of unequal distribution of wealth and power between the two sides of the political divide, is what is aptly captured by UNDP’s Achim Steiner above.
What we can add as another cause of frustration is lack of political will to fight in earnest rampant corruption through which people in government and business persons who bankroll their political careers connive to fleece the public pulse of billions of kwacha at the expense of taxpayers who pay more and get in turn poorer public service delivery.
The Constitutional case will not address these problems. They require a political solution.