First past the post: Whither Malawian democracy?

The just concluded 2014 presidential elections results, just like those of 1994, 1999 and 2004, do not inspire confidence; in fact they do provide a challenge for genuine democracy to thrive in Malawi – as in most African countries where the first past the post rule is still used. So delicate is this system that most countries in Africa, who have seen the folly in it as a divider more than a unifier, have done away with it to adopt the 50+1 system. Kenya comes as a good example, among the countries that did away with the “winner takes it all” rule.

In Malawi, with the exception of the independence and the 2009 presidential elections results, that ushered in Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) into power, we can unequivocally state that in the rest of the other presidential election results, we succeeded in electing a tribal leader as president of Malawi disguised as a national leader.

Chibambo would benefit with propotional representation
Chibambo would benefit with propotional representation

As it stands today, after the conclusion of presidential elections that saw Professor Peter Mutharika of DPP winner, Malawi has elected a tribal leader to lead other tribes. This is the price Malawi must pay when tribalism is institutionalized, but hidden under the so called national parties. Political parties in Malawi and most of Africa, are tribal; this is a fact, because it is unimaginable as it stands currently to have for example parties like AFORD, DPP, MCP, PP and UDF be led by a Malawian other than one from the geographical areas of their founders.

It is possibly beyond imaginations that in the next two decades AFORD will be led by a Malawian from central or southern region; just like it is beyond imaginations that DPP will be led by a Malawian from central or northern region – and so on and so forth with MCP, PP and UDF respectively.

Thus political parties in Malawi are WILLED to the kin and kith of the founder, overtly or covertly; in other words, they are willed to the geographical area of the founder leader in an unwritten WILL fashion or through the law of the MIND. With this state of affairs, one does not need science to deduce the fact that tribal led governments are here to stay unless something is done to address this democratic injustice.

In my personal view, the electoral process where the winner takes it all will stand as a ticking bomb if not addressed – because it only succeeds in polarizing Malawians and raises ethnocentrism even further; this system, based on our dominantly tribal conscious majority, has only succeeded in creating tribal presidents.

The first past the post rule is one law that needs repealing in the current parliament; this will allow for a presidential run-off vote, where no clear winner emerges, consequently providing for the electing of a leader with a national appeal. It is also always psychologically good for a leader to rule knowing that the majority of Malawians voted for them; it provides confidence.

It is also time I believe for mature intraparty democracy to thrive. National unity and tolerance of diversity must begin with major political parties themselves – because they are the ones that have perpetrated this situation. Political Xenophobia at party levels has existed – with the case of Chimunthu Banda in DPP being a classical example a while ago. When major political parties in Malawi can make bold decisions as to deliberately WILL part leadership to their members from regions other than those of founders, Malawians will likely take a cue that NATIONALISM is thriving in a such and such political party; minus this goodwill and tolerance within our major political parties, one needs to think of enacting laws that will strengthen NATIONALISM other than weakening it.

In conclusion, it saddens me to note that presidential candidates that lost and yet had sizeable electoral votes cannot be represented in parliament; Kamuzu Chibambo’s PETRA quickly comes to my mind. I believe that parliament or the entire electoral process must be overhauled or restructured to adopt the proportional representation system – where parties and not individuals get to be elected at the ballot and then choose parliamentary or ward representatives after elections.

I have the electoral system of The Republic of South Africa in mind; their system revolves around political parties and not personalities. No person or individual appears on a ballot paper be it president, Member of Parliament or councilor – rather it is the party. Parties may have presidents alright, but it is the party and not a president that gets voted. Further, after elections, for every 43000 votes a party receives, the party gets to send an MP to parliament on a proportional representation basis.

Thus it is parties that send their representatives to parliament, within its rank and file based on the votes accumulated; with this system, though parties may have votes from one section of society (say DPPs South majority; MCP central majority; PP’s northern majority and UDF’s eastern majority), they have an opportunity to appoint MPs somewhat proportionally from across the divide of the nation, and ensure that their parties are truly national.

Chibambo’s followers would benefit from such a system and parties would also become principled since it will curb the defections that we have so far witnessed; parties must also thrive on royalty. This will also among many benefits, save us great resources in Kwachas, allow a parliament with vibrant minds and remove the confusion of roles between MPs and councilors.

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