After a disastrous presidential election in May, 2019, Malawians voted for president in a do-over election on June 23rd, 2020 and the stakes are perhaps higher than anytime since the first democratic poll in 1994 following the rejection of the single party system in a referendum.
It will be a few days before the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) announces the winner and certainly claims and counterclaims will be the norm even after the results have been made official.
This election should teach a lesson to leaders that a day will come when they will have to leave office. When should thinking about leaving office start? Just like medical professionals start planning patient discharge on admission, the day a new leader is sworn in is when he and his team should start thinking about leaving office when their mandate expires as this has implications on performance while in office.
Not wanting to give up power happens mostly in developing countries with weak democratic institutions and leaders there think nobody but them could do the job. Contrast that to the behavior of the former iconic South African president, the late Nelson Mandela, who made the proverbial good dancer must know when to leave the stage become a reality by serving just one five-year term when the country’s Constitution allows two terms.
A leader who sticks around a minute longer puts himself at risk of getting out of touch. Is it unimaginable for a leader to mistake anger targeted at him for support as people carry signs and scream outside his armoured vehicle; or being in denial about the long running uninterrupted anti-Jane Ansah protests demanding her ouster as chair of the MEC?
A quick recap on why Ansah, who had refused to step down, had to go: MEC under Ansah influenced the May 2019 presidential election in a dishonest way to benefit Mutharika. The country’s Constitutional Court (CC) voided the election and ordered a new poll which took place this week on June 23.
The court also said the winner of the new election should garner 50% + 1 of the votes unlike in past elections. In the last election President Peter Mutharika won with just 38 percent of the vote while his main challenger, Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP), came in second with 35 percent. The spirit of this new rule should be applauded as it could help reduce the toxic effects of tribal politics which promote national disunity than unity.
Malawi was abuzz with anticipation of the fresh poll. Frustration about lack of solid economic progress in the country was palpable. Ahead of the presidential election, surveys showed Mutharika and his governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) losing, a development Counterjab welcomed.
Normally, Counterjab doesn’t do this but critics who say it is anti-DPP deserve an answer. If Counterjab was ever seen as objective by some, here’s some news that might disappoint: Counterjab is cause-driven thus it believes in advocacy journalism. It has no desire to be objective; it has every desire to be fair. There’s a difference between objectivity and fairness but that discussion can wait for another day.
Misadventures of ‘Adadi’
As Malawi anxiously waits for the election results, Mutharika believes he must spearhead the effort to lead Malawi to a better future despite his uninspiring leadership — in office 2014 to 2020 — that failed to put a dent on poverty.
Some sympathisers argue that the six years were too short to bring about serious changes. Really? How did his late elder brother Bingu do it in his first five-year term from 2004 when Malawi rid itself of hunger and the economy and the infrastructure were on the mend to boot! Peter Mutharika simply didn’t take responsibility for his government’s failures.
A peek at some of his misadventures: He appealed to the Supreme Court the CC decision — lost. He tried to influence Parliament to reject the court’s decision only to have the legislature kneecap him by quickly setting a date for the new election as ordered by the court. Unfazed, he kept his assault on the judiciary and ahead of the presidential vote, his government tried to force the Chief Justice (CJ) to go on leave pending his retirement in 2021, claiming he had too many leave days. The move, again, like his other attempts at getting what he wanted, ran into a brick wall. In fact, the High Court said CJ had fewer leave days than claimed by the politburo.
In the last instalment of Counterjab (Malawi needs movers, shakers not fakers as the psycho quits) the point was made that there was a small fraction of people left among DPP sympathisers who could be persuaded to think otherwise by fact and reason. And here is what a statistician from the University of Malawi, Jimmy Namangale, said about polling showing DPP losing: The coalition of “DPP/UDF [United Democratic Front of Atupele Muluzi] is likely to have an upper hand than MCP/UTM [of Saulos Chilima]. Why? “The majority of respondents…are not willing to air their choices.”
Namangale deliberately threw dust in the eyes of DPP supporters to gin up support as the hour was near and hopelessness was sinking in. Not long ago, Mutharika’s convoy was stoned in Ndirande township in the Southern Region, a supposedly DPP stronghold. He seemingly didn’t get the message conceivably because supporters fondly call him Adadi (Our Father) and by referring to themselves as Ana a Adadi (Father’s children) made him think they were solidly behind him. If indeed these were his kids, they must have turned against their father perhaps to let it be known that they’d rather be “orphans” than Adadi’s children!
To be elected president under the new rules, a contender must win a real majority. Last year, DPP won 38 percent of the poll and its current coalition partner UDF took home 4 percent. MCP got 35 percent, its ally UTM 20 percent. Numbers don’t lie and simple arithmetic informs us that it’s nigh impossible for the DPP/UDF (38%+4%=42%) alliance to hit 50 percent. Thirty-five percent (MCP) plus 20 percent (UTM) equals fifty-five percent (35%+20%=55%).
What worked for the opposition this time around was the amalgamation of MCP/UTM with a bunch of smaller parties — Tonse Alliance — that bolstered chances of winning even more. Did the expression the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” not make any sense to Namangale and those who shared his position? Did they consider the fact that people believed last year’s election was stolen? Did the tens of thousands that thronged united opposition Tonse Alliance rallies suddenly believe that MEC did a good job last year? Absent any monkey business and earth-shattering events that would help DPP/UDF win, Namangale’s analysis was so unrealistically confident that it bordered on living in a fool’s paradise.
So far, there’s nothing that suggests that Mutharika, who used his power to place in key positions partisan hacks to further his political interests, gives up easily. He branded critics as enemies of the state; had no regard for the public good as he continually corrupted and debased Malawi’s democracy thus made himself, wittingly or not, a threat to Malawi’s democracy.
As June 23rd neared, Counterjab wondered if there was anything that could be done about the plight Malawi – 56-year-old independent nation with little to show for it — found itself in? The answer: Yes. And Yes! How? Foolishness, certainly, can never be fixed but it can be voted out. Hopefully, a new future started on June 23rd with Malawians voting for the clear choice for change.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :