It is not only the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that needs bold, fearless and open-minded people like Samuel Tembenu SC who this week openly poured out his frustrations against his party leaders. All political parties in the country, and Malawi, as a whole, and its fledgling democracy need a Tembenu who can tell their leaders in the face about their governance shortfalls without fearing reprisals.
For starters, Tembenu a former minister of Justice in the DPP administration was on Wednesday this week on cloud nine firing on all cylinders to propel the DPP system into motion. When you want to rescue a child inside a house that is burning, you don’t mind how you get into the house. The house on fire is the DPP. Taking umbrage at the DPP’s mortifying loss in three by-elections on Tuesday, one of which was previously held by his party member Martha Lunji, Tembenu threw all protocol to the wind and took to social media to verbalise his frustrations. He told his party czars unless the blue ship changes course, it is destined for disaster.
He minced no words: “We have problems in the party. We can’t bury our heads in the sand. We need to confront these problems and resolve these issues.”
DPP’s loss in the October 26, 2021 by-elections in which it only managed to retain one ward, came at the back of another embarrassing loss in the March 30, 2021 by-elections. In the polls held in seven constituencies, it lost three seats to MCP with the oldest party in the land increasing its parliamentary strength by four seats. Thereafter a Vuwa Kaunda victory in the June 29, 2021 by-election for the Nkhata Bay Central parliamentary seemed to have breathed some fresh air in the DPP fold. The perception is that for not fixing its leadership wrangles the DPP is fast sliding itself into a sewer hole.
Tembenu is thus unequivocally a breath of fresh air in a house all occupants know where the demons are domiciled but none can garner enough courage to exorcise them. Myriad and entrenched, DPP’s headaches are well known. The party should fix them from the top. Former president Bakili Muluzi nailed it when, commenting on DPP wrangles at the Mulhakho wa Alhomwe festival early this month said, “the branches are OK. So are the areas; the constituencies; the districts and the regions. But what needs fixing, and urgently for that matter, is at the top”. This is a task he so well and unambiguously placed on the shoulders of the DPP president Peter Mutharika. But whatever you can choose to call it—a misadventure, a mishap, a mischance or simply an accident—Mutharika has anything but set his sight on 2023 to hand over power. Meaning 2023—when the party will hold an elective convention—is the earliest the party should expect him to leave the stage. The meaning of all this is that DPP’s problems will continue for the unforeseeable future.
It is not rocket science to visualise and predict that in the two-year intervening period to 2023 when Mutharika has promised to relinquish power, DPP will continue to get decimated both in numbers and visibility. The main opposition party will continue to lose seats in Parliament where it is most expected to assert its relevance in the country’s political economy.
Now this is not good for democracy. It is certainly anathema for a party which, in essence, is a government-in-waiting, and is expected to check the excesses of the ruling Tonse Alliance administration. Dictatorships everywhere are born and thrive where the opposition is weak. This is what we all ought to be worried about.
Tembenu has spoken out against babysitting problems in his party. His voice needs support and amplifying by all well-meaning Malawians, particularly the DPP politburo members, who call the shots in the party. For the DPP leadership, the past should, at best be to learn from, and the future, an opportunity to seize and embrace. But that reform process and intraparty metamorphosis should start now and not in 2023 as Mutharika and a few people around him want for their own reasons. As Tembenu has rightly said DPP should resolve its internal wrangles in order to regain its lost glory, or disappear from the country’s political landscape. But that will not be good not only for the party for but for democracy as a whole.
Time to do so is now.
Not in 2023.