Written by Patseni Mauka
Statistics shows that Malawians are slowly dumping party allegiance. Since the dawn of multiparty democracy in Malawi, there has been an emergence and rise of independent members of parliament. These are members who are voted on the basis of their personality, credibility and promises, not party allegiance. After the 1994 general elections, there were no independent MPs in parliament. In 1999, four independent candidates made it to Parliament. In 2004, independent MPs increased to 38 and decreased to 33 in 2009.
In 2014 the number of independent MPs rose to 52 compared to 50 for Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), 48 for Malawi Congress Party (MCP), 26 for People’s Party (PP), 14 for United Democratic Front (UDF) and one each for Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) and Chipani Cha Pfuko (CCP) of Enoch Chihana and Davis Katsonga respectively. Thus, the 2014 elections, resulted in independent members of Parliament (MPs) becoming a huge bloc in parliament.
The meaning of this that people are increasingly not voting on party lines. The message from the voters is very clear; either you have parliamentary candidates who are popular and credible in our area, or we don’t vote for the party no matter how many free t-shirts and wrappers you give us.
Most of the times, the independent candidates do not just wake up and decide to run as independents. They are forced by circumstances within parties. Most of them decide to run as independents after party primaries. This is because of the tendency by parties to impose or be biased towards some candidates. So many tricks are used to favor some blue-eyed boys. It’s this lack of intraparty democracy that forces people to stand as independents and win against parties.
It’s not the rise of independent candidates only that shows the lack of intraparty democracy. There have been many resignations and defections of party members because of not being treated fairly by party leadership. There also have been embarrassing party wrangles resulting from authoritarian tendencies by some party leaders. In some cases, the petty wrangles had to be resolved by courts on behalf of mediocre leaders.
As a result of mediocre leadership, the country has witnessed wrangles in all prominent parties including —the governing DPP, MCP, PP, Aford and UDF. Soon after the 2014 elections, President Peter Mutharika included in his cabinet Atupele Muluzi, the UDF leader. Automatically DPP and UDF, entered a working alliance both in and outside Parliament. However in practice, it has been a working alliance between the young Muluzi and DPP as some UDF members were disillusioned with the alliance.
Recently there have been internal wrangles in the UDF due to disagreements with some indications of the party getting into a coalition with the DPP. As the elections get closer, UDF members have no clue whether the party will field a presidential candidate or not. Only the young Muluzi and his father Bakili Muluzi know. It’s a family party. No democracy whatsoever.
AFORD wrangles are also refusing to die following the emergence of two factions that are led by Enoch Chihana and Frank Mwenifumbo. The two held two different conventions with each emerging as presidents. The two factions have been fighting without finding a tangible solution to the wrangles. At the moment; AFORD is a lost ship which doesn’t know how it will participate in next year’s elections.
In MCP, problems started when president Lazarus Chakwera’s decided to make changes in the MCP’s policy making body—the National Executive Committee (NEC). Replacing elected leaders with appointed ones brought discontent within the party’s rank and file.
This resulted in a letter which the top executive of the party elected at the 2013 convention, among them Vice-president Richard Msowoya and secretary general Gustave Kaliwo, wrote the MCP president Lazarus Chakwera, accusing him of flouting the party constitution.
Before this issue was resolved, Chakwera welcomed Sidik Mia, former cabinet minister in the UDF, DPP and PP governments into the MCP. The admission of Mia into MCP is an effort to win the party a greater section of the electorate, especially the southern region, in the 2019 elections. Due to lack of proper consultation within the party by the leadership, some members had reservations about the decision. Crazy with Mia’s financial muscle, Chakwera pushed for ‘endorsement’ of Mia as First Vice President at MCP’s convention held in May, 2018. Chakwera has since chosen Mia as his running mate next year. That’s financial democracy, the MCP way. Party bought and paid for by Mia.
MCP primaries elections in preparation for the 2019 general elections have also been a disaster. The primaries have been marred with postponements and controversial results. In other cases, winners of primary elections had to be decided by the leadership. Already candidates like Nancy Tembo and Madalitso Kazombo have decided to stand as independents. All this points to one thing, Chakwera’s leadership failure.
The People’s Party (PP) had its share of wrangles following the appointment of Uladi Mussa as acting president in the absence of former president Joyce Banda who stayed outside Malawi since losing elections. The party’s national campaign director Salim Bagus, alongside others, obtained an injunction stopping the appointments by Banda of Mussa as acting president and Kamlepo Kalua as third vice-president. Proper consultation and democratic means for appointing an acting president would have avoided this situation.
The party leadership expelled two of its legislators, Patrick Makina of Zomba Ntonya and Christopher Mzomera Ngwira of Mzimba Hora. Makina was reportedly accused of not working in the interest of the party whereas Ngwira was booted out for demanding leadership change in the absence of founding president Joyce Banda. The main problem with PP was leadership wrangles and intolerance to dissenting views in the party. Joyce Banda has since returned to Malawi and has said that she will stand again in 2019 after coming third in the 2014 elections. Already Joyce Banda’s son, Roy Kachale Banda, who was ‘elected unopposed, as PP’s Vice President for the eastern region is waiting on the wings to become president of the party in future. The party is now under threat of going the UDF way, family party.
DPP has not been one big happy family either. The party worked so hard to suppress and sideline its former member, Mulanje South legislator Bon Kalindo, mainly for demanding more government action against albino killings and abductions. Strangely, the party reportedly believed that Kalindo was trying to portray the administration as doing too little on the albino issue. Eventually he resigned as member for DPP and became one of the founders of UTM, a party that is giving DPP sleepless nights.
The biggest disaster to DPP was the resignation of Vice President Dr Saulos Chilima and others from DPP to form UTM. This was the ultimate failure of leadership by Mutharika. All he needed was to listen and respect dissenting views on his style of leadership, calls to fight corruption decisively and advice for him to retire. A democratic process would have found the best solution to the problems. But dictatorship and listening to bad advice from dodgy characters has landed Mutharika and DPP in deep waters. Chilima led UTM is on fire!
Evidence shows that people are increasingly voting for personalities and not according to party allegiance because of lack of intraparty democracy. It’s the duty of parties to democratically choose people to run as MPs so that only the best win and maintain party strength in parliament. Parties should also allow dissenting views and democratically resolve any problems.
Intraparty democracy is not improving because of leaders who believe they are immortal and do as they please with the parties. Parties like AFORD and UDF are almost at the point of extinction because of unilateral decisions by leaders. Parties should not be run like personal farms or tribal clubs. The DPP which in the 2009 general elections, scooped a majority of 112 seats in parliament and got 66 percent of the votes for the presidential election is on the decline with latest research showing that its popularity is hovering around 30 percent. This is because the party is run like a tribal club and a Mutharika farm.
Just like any other organization, good leadership is crucial for party growth and success. Good leadership enables intraparty democracy to flourish. Without intraparty democracy, parties risk extinction. Unfortunately good leadership is scarce. What is found in abundance is mediocre leadership. Party leaders should transform themselves and embrace intraparty democracy or let their parties become extinct.
As we prepare to elect new leaders for the country next year, we should look at how leaders behave at party level because that’s how they will likely lead the country. Lack of intraparty democracy is the first critical sign of leadership failure.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the Publisher or the Editor of Maravi Post