Rewarding idiocy: Why vote if it won’t change the status quo in Malawi?

“The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don’t have to waste your time voting” – Charles Bukowski

Elections mood has truly taken hold of Malawi. Contesting political parties are completing their line-ups gearing for what promises to be the closest elections since Malawi returned to democracy in 1994. The death of Bingu wa Mutharika in office, which led to Joyce Banda’s accession, has made what was always a possibility a reality. Never before have Malawians paid more attention to the choice of Vice President.

Perhaps for the first time, political parties are feeling obliged to explain the choice of a running mate. It is good to notice that a good section of Malawians still care about politics and political process, which has done very little to uplift living standards of Malawian.

What is sad however is that a vice president has already been a periphery figure in Malawi politics. The office lacks power. According to former Vice President, Justin Malewezi, vice presidency in Malawi is no more than a ceremonial position. This is probably why is has taken Joyce Banda’s succession of Mutharika for most Malawians to take the office seriously. The ‘what if’ anything happens to the president factor is having an impact.

MCP's Chakwera with his running mater Richard Msowoya (L)

MCP’s Chakwera with his running mater Richard Msowoya (L)

Yet the whole running mate thing is nothing but an election tool. But it could yet be one of the key factors to decide the May 20th elections. Other than this the office is as periphery as ever. A talented person as a Vice President of Malawi is a talent wasted. This is why it is a waste of space and time to go on and on about running mates instead of debating policy and structural changes that Malawi democracy needs to make for its own sake and for that of long suffering Malawians.

Malawians are already aware of what the incumbency is capable of. Opposition need to sale their vision to the masses. There are so many ways, I am sure but I suggest having a shadow cabinet. A shadow cabinet offers a lot of positives from both political and governance point of view – it is necessary for the sake of the political parties and the country as a whole. Here is why:

A shadow cabinet is not only a clear statement of intent; the party’s vision of what they would exactly do once on power. Yes, promise only comforts a fool but at least it is there, Malawians will make their choices on it. For the party’s own sake, shadow cabinet would get rid of political opportunists who are only interested in ministerial positions once in power. Political parties are always better without such people. It is good for stability.

Opposition parties need to have shadow ministers responding to issues concerning their corresponding portfolio in the government. This helps decentralising power within political parties. Also, you have a qualified person responding to what they actually know. It is no use to have a know-it-all spokesperson responding to issues they hardly know about. Opposition parties need to come up with their own national budget, not merely commenting on the incumbency one. Let Malawians compare.

Bloated cabinet in Malawi is a persisting problem. It drains state resources and it is used to reward political idiocy; it undermines meritocracy. Any sane Malawian knows that the country could do with a 14, 15 or 16 member cabinet. This would save the country’s meagre resource. Not only from the small numbers but also because Malawi would have people doing what they are well qualified for. Malawi can no longer afford ministers whose only duty is to accompany the President to ‘development rallies’ or to press conferences so they bully and threaten journalist asking questions and raising issues of public interest.

Could any opposition political party show Malawians their shadow cabinet? Public Affairs Committee (PAC) has decided to talk to presidential aspirants to find out their aspirations for Malawi. Fair enough, but unless political parties themselves start taking steps (not rhetoric) towards people centred politics, the 20th May elections will only change bums on seats, everything will be business as usual.

And it will not be too much to ask: what is the point of voting if nothing changes for the better?

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