Yes, there was voter apathy in all the by-elections held on Tuesday to elect a parliamentarian for Mchinji West Constituency and ward councilors in Bunda in Kasungu, Kaliyeka in Lilongwe, Bembeke in Dedza and Sadzi in Zomba. And many people and organisations have expressed concern over this. But was anyone expecting anything better than this? I for one was not.
Some have said there is need to conduct a study on the cause of the apathy. Well, there is always money to waste. The clear writing on the wall is that like all by-elections, this was not a regime-changing exercise and voter apathy was expected to be the norm.
The key issue voters were asking is what change will the by-elections make to their lives? Whether it is the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) or Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) or whoever wins, President Peter Mutharika and his DPP will continue to call the shots; the excruciating poverty Malawians are facing, the many problems they are going through—lack of electricity, shortage of water, sky-rocketing prices of commodities, high maize prices, new taxes on tap water, bread, milk, overcrowding, shortage of drugs in public hospitals, government’s failure to employ nurses—just to mention a few, will not go away. So why the bother?
Perhaps a lesson or two to the DPP leadership is that the by-elections have shown that nothing is moving in the right direction in this country. And that Malawians are being driven right into a dungeon. If things continue at the pace they are happening only God knows where this country, currently rated the poorest in the world will be, come December next year.
Donors such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) keep postponing its Extended Credit Facility (ECF), the leadership is completely clueless about how to cut spending by 30 percent—as Minister of Finance, Goodall Gondwe, envisions for the economy to start ticking. When the Presidency cannot lead by example on fiscal disciplone, who does the leadership expect to do what is right? The recent purchase of one vehicle at a jaw-dropping K100 million by the President is evidence of the kind of opulence and extravagance that Malawi can ill afford now.
It does not matter that the purchase of vehicles for the State Residences was approved in the 2016/17 National Budget, but that was on the assumption that certain things would allow that to happen without harming certain sectors. A financial blue-print is based on so many assumptions and it not cast in stone. That is why there is always a midyear review of the budget. When circumstances don’t allow certain things to happen, you change course.
Perhaps one unequivocal statement from the recent by-elections is that the DPP-led government has completely lost the plot. With all the resources that the DPP poured into the Mchinji West Constituency to woo voters to vote for a DPP candidate, for example, it is an embarrassment that the party lost the seat miserably. The DPP capped by no less than the Vice President literally camped in Mchinji for that seat.
President Peter Mutharika straight from straight from the United Nations Nations General Assembly (UNGA)—used all the State machinery and public resources—at his disposal and made it a point to drum his support for the DPP candidate. But alas, it is a shame that all that has come to nothing! Well, people have spoken.
If the Mchinji outcome is not loud enough about how bad things are, the outcome of the Kaliyeka ward—previously held by DPP—should tell it all. It is a vote of no confidence in the DPP regime. People are simply expressing their anger and disappointment at the way the DPP is handling the economy. The government seems to be completely clueless about the problems ravaging this country and inept about how to deal with them. All Malawians ought to be worried about the country’s state of affairs and do something about it.
As I am writing this, the government is not even ready with the reduced Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) coupons for the 900 000 recipients and yet rains are already upon us across the country. What has government been doing all this time? Government should not waste people’s time trying to justify its inefficiencies. It had 12 full months to redesign foolproof coupons. And yet a whopping K34 billion from the national budget will be poured into the sector. To say nothing about how the participants were selected.
- The article first appeared in The Nation