Honourable Folks, it’s now 13 months to go before the tripartite elections. Political parties are busy holding conventions to elect their candidates, especially in the presidential race.
On Thursday and Friday, it was former ruling party, DPP, where Peter Mutharika and Henry Chimunthu Banda contested for party presidency, the first-ever sign of intra-party democracy within DPP since the late Bingu wa Mutharika formed it a year after assuming power in the 2004 elections on UDF ticket.
The convention must then be an exciting first considering that in the old scheme of things, Peter was to “inherit” from his brother the presidency of a party which ironically prides itself to be not only “democratic” but also “progressive.”
Before DPP, UDF and the ruling PP held their conventions where their presidential candidates were elected. MCP also looks set to hold its own convention. Should that happen, it would be the first time for all major parties to field elected presidential candidates in the race since Malawians chose the multiparty system of government in the 1993 referendum. Bravo democracy!
But the forthcoming elections are unique in the sense that, again for the first time in the multiparty dispensation, Malawi shall hold tripartite as opposed to general elections which comprised presidential and parliamentary polls. What makes it tripartite is the inclusion of local government polls.
I can’t wait to see the Mayor perched on the back seat of BT1, LL1, MZ1 or ZA1! Will it be the expensive Merc or, in the name of cost-cutting, the Prado? Frankly, I wouldn’t give a damn even if it were a Corolla as long as there are elected leaders in the cities to pledge what they would do with the city rates and other forms of revenue the cities exact on their residents.
The last time we elected ward councillors was in 2000, some 13 years ago despite the Constitution providing for the holding of local polls every five years. Our former elected presidents—Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika— who took an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution, still managed to short-change the electorate by denying them the right to elect managers of the decentralisation process and got away with it.
Sometimes I wonder what constitutional crime a president can commit to warrant removal by impeachment!
But, that said, I still have doubts the 2014 tripartite polls will serve a meaningful purpose other than fulfilling constitutional provisions or aid ‘conditionalities’. As early as 2005, the good political reason given for deferring the local polls was to look into the welfare of councillors.
Of course, the real reason was that Mutharika won 37 percent of the votes, and only became president thanks to first-past-the-post system and neither the sponsoring party, UDF, nor the newly formed DPP had confidence they could do well in the local polls. In Malawi, where development is highly politicised and sold as proof of a successful tenure of office, the last thing a ruling party would want is to have councillors loyal to the “enemy” in opposition managing development at the grass roots.
The problem was that the former leaders did not just dodge the local polls but they set us “parallel structures” to play the role meant for councillors. For example, under UDF and DPP, MPs managed to wring from government Constituency Development Fund which now amounts to K5 million and they are pressing for it to be increased further.
At the centre of CDF is the MP who earns a salary double that of a university lecturer and is currently demanding 500 litres of fuel a month to ensure the 4×4 twin cab, bought duty free under terms as ridiculous as those of subsidised fertiliser, is on the road at all times. Yet the same MP also has powers to influence development at the district level.
Then, there is also the empowered office of the traditional authority which now gets as much as K50 000honorarium per month. The chief, who is forced to support government of the day, is the big eye over various development committees at the grassroots level and, like the MP, also has a big say on development at the district level.
Both the MP and the traditional authority have jurisdiction over much bigger areas than the ward councillor. Not only that; the two have more resources and are better incentivised than the councillor. How will these three cooks be organised to add value and not spoil the broth? What will happen in areas where the ruling party has both the MP and the chief on its side and the councillor is from opposition?
Malawi will have clocked 50 years as an independent sovereign State next year. We should do things that give hope that can help us move out of poverty, lest we end up still reeking dire poverty at our 100th anniversary.