John Tembo has finally left the room, Reverend Lazarus Chakwera is in – career politician passing a political button to a man of God, completing the eagerly awaited 2014 presidential line-up. Smaller parties may yet feature their own presidential candidates and independent candidates may yet emerge but it is safe to say that baring any form of incapacitation, next year today one of the following people will be a president of Malawi: Joyce Banda, Peter Muntharika, Atupele Muluzi or Chakwera.
One of the advantages of party conventions is that it energises political parties and it helps entrenching intra-party democracy, it is good for a party concerned as well as the nation as. Charity begins at home; you cannot preach democracy at a national level while stifling it within your own party, which is fair to say it is something that Tembo was doing.
Suddenly, Malawi Congress Party’s (MCP) convention seems comparatively more credible of all other party convention. Joyce Banda was unopposed at People’s Party (PP) convention. United Democratic Front (UDF) flouted their own constitution so Atupele Muluzi could succeed his father, and Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) then ‘acting’ leader, Peter Mutharika replaced his departed brother. There was nothing unpredictable about these conventions.
Chakwera’s election has energised MCP, as it was the case with all other parties. Having stood by their constitution and reject Tembo’s third term attempted, MCP has given themselves a better chance at the polls. It guarantees nothing, of course. The race has never been tighter; it is too early and too tight to call. This time 30% of the vote, or less could be enough for someone to become a president, owing it to our first-past-the-post voting system. Bingu wa Mutharika won 2004 elections with 35.8% of the vote.
PP and DDP through Hophman Makande and Nicolas Dausi, respectively, have been quick to dismiss views that Chakwera’s election could force their respective parties to review their campaign strategies. Of course it would be foolish for the two to admit this even if they indeed see Chakwera – this would play into MCP’s favour.
Should MCP win, there is a genuine threat that it would send PP and DPP into political oblivion. These parties are full of greedy journeymen and women who would either jump the ship or fight for positions and self-destructs. Owing it to its young leadership, if remain united, UDF would survive in opposition and see it through to 2019. MCP has shown huge resilience during the difficult period that Tembo choked the party almost to death.
Chakwera’s election has definitely changed political dynamics. Take this scenario, for example: if Kamuzu Day was today, only few days after the MCP convention, would Joyce Banda attend the celebration wearing clothes with Kamuzu’s face on it and lauding Kamuzu as a pioneer of women empowerment in Malawi as she did last May? My instincts say no. Such image would be politically incorrect, given its juxtaposition with MCP convention images where Kamuzu nsaru also featured highly. Chakwera may not be a ‘threat’ but the bigger picture is that his election has changed the game.
What does all this mean for you and I, the ordinary folk, whose votes are in high demand right now? At a basic level it means we have an extra presidential candidate to choose from. Other than this it is politics as usual in Malawi where the choice is all about individuals; where they come from and what political colour they wear. Not what they will do for you and I.
After these conventions the next feature will be about running mates. MCP and PP have already set the wheels running by declaring that their torch bearers will have to choose running mate of their choice – a good thing in principle, but in practice it also means the focus will be on individuals again, not polices.
Malawi is undergoing multiples crises, a list too long for this space. All politicians are happy admit the pathetic statistic that in its 49th year of independence, Malawi remains a donor-dependent state. In fact 40% of out annual budget is donor sponsored and according to 2012 UNDP report, Malawi is 171 out of 187 countries on 2011 Human Development index report. Farm Input Subsidy Programme takes more and more portion of the national budget every year yet more people still go hungry, where are we going with it? Is it just a political tool at public’s expense? Our university education is getting worse by day, what is the way forward? Safe motherhood, yes but what are the plans given the hair-raising population projection that Malawi will have around 25 million people come 2025? As a young, educated, unemployed or under employed Malawian how does it feel when you think of starting a family and raise children in Malawi today?
These are pertinent issues that political party conferences fail to discuss. It is not enough for presidential candidates and their parties to simply recognise these issues, they must offer their options: what are they going to do about it? It is this that you and I must base our decisions on who to vote for.
Next time a politician ask for your vote ask them these questions and so many other issues affecting you and your loved ones. This is what elections are all about – issues. It is our duty to let the candidates know that we will not accept anything less. The power is with us. Let us all register and vote for a candidate offering solutions, regardless of their political affiliation, tribe, religion, sexual orientation or gender.
Note: Jimmy Kainja will be writing a weekly column on Nyasa Times, please make sure you check it every Wednesday.