That time is once again upon us; the time when Malawians sit on the collective edge of their seats with bated breath to know the people that would fill up key positions, particularly in the executive and legislature.
One of the most important positions is that of the Speaker of Parliament or head of the legislature, which is an important arm of government responsible for making the laws that govern this country.
Richard Msowoya is gone, and we will probably not see him again, at least for the next five years. The person who will occupy the position of Speaker of Parliament this time will be new; either new to Parliament or new to the position of Speaker.
The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) amassed 62 MPs against 55 independents; 55 for Malawi Congress Party; 10 for UDF; 4 for UTM; and 1 for Aford.
What it means here is that DPP stands a better chance of having one of its own as Speaker of the august House because independents tend to side with the ruling party.
The question is, who among the DPP’s elected crop can be Speaker of Parliament? There are of course a few names that have already been thrown in the ring. The most notable names are those of George Chaponda, Ben Phiri, Bright Msaka, Nicholas Dausi; Kondwani Nankhumwa and perhaps Esther Mcheka Chilenje. Chances are that one of these people will become Speaker of National Assembly for the next five-year tenure of parliament.
As much it is clear that those that have more experience in parliament will have obvious advantage over the less experienced, it is not automatic that they (the experienced) will become Speaker for reasons of politics.
For example, Dr. Chaponda is obviously a vastly experienced Parliamentarian having served in the august House for over 15 years. During this time, he served as Cabinet Minister in the two DPP governments: the Bingu wa Mutharika Cabinet as well as in the Peter Mutharika Cabinet. He also served as Leader of Government Business in the august House for a considerable long time.
Dr. Chaponda, therefore, stands out as perhaps the most experienced among the DPP crop of ‘probables’ to become Speaker of Parliament. He may, however, not be the darling of everyone both within the DPP and outside of it.
Spatula Chaponda has a history of not being liked by the rank and file of the ruling party because of issues of character; he has failed on almost all his attempts to get position (s) in the party where he was required to be elected by the party rank and file. The only reason he has held a senior position in the party before was through appointment owing to his closeness to President Peter Mutharika.
The major albatross around Chaponda’s neck vis-a-vis his chances of getting the job as Speaker of Parliament is MAIZEGATE, in which he was allegedly involved in inflating prices of maize imported from Zambia for personal gain. He was consequently fired from Cabinet because of that scandal and he has not fully recovered from that image crush.
It would therefore be an uphill task for him to get the position because resistance is bound to come from several fronts particularly from his own DPP.
The reason why Ben Manga Phiri’s name is being thrown into the ring as candidate for Speaker of Parliament is because he appears to be someone who has had some influence in as far as DPP’s internal politics is concerned, owing to his closeness to President Mutharika having worked as his aide for a long time.
However, as much as this may be true, his influence may be limited beyond the DPP’s internal enclaves; he is likely going to struggle to convince the MPs that he is the right candidate for the job.
Ben Phiri is a first time MP or so to say a rookie in parliament and does not have the experience and required temerity to handle the pressure that comes with the job as Speaker of Parliament.
Also, the Speaker of Parliament is the Head of Legislature, which is a stand-alone arm of government, and one needs to have a good education that would require him or her to have above-average grasp of, not only parliamentary language, but a good grasp of issues around management of the office of the Speaker.
Ben Phiri’s education background is not clearly defined, which may work to his disadvantage. His recent attacks on the personality of former First Lady Dr. Patricia Shanil Muluzi may also work to his disadvantage and he may not get the support of female MPs on top of facing the lobby of women advocates groups against his candidature.
Kondwani Nankhumwa also comes across as one of the few best suited candidates to become Speaker of Parliament. In fact, the recent social media talk has been buzzing with some supporters of the ruling DPP propagating for him to be Speaker of the National Assembly this time round because of his experience, deliberative and cool demeanour.
However, giving Nankhumwa the speakership may not work well for the DPP, he is Vice President for the party in the southern region, which is the bedrock of its support.
The job of Speaker of Parliament demands neutrality, and if Nankhumwa becomes Speaker it means he would have to automatically cede the highly political position of Vice President for the party in the southern region. This would obviously be a minus for the DPP because Nankhumwa was instrumental in creating the grassroots cohesion that was responsible for the party’s victory in the just ended tripartite elections.
Nankhumwa has also shown impeccable aptitude in how he performed in the role of Leader of Business in the august house for the past year, and the best President Peter Mutharika can do is to keep him in the same position during this Parliament so that his role as Vice President of the party in the southern region is not affected.
Nicholas Dausi has never been taken seriously in almost any role (s) that he has performed in the past. He is always full of banter (often times over does it), which may not bode well with the type of audience that constitutes MPs.
Chances are he may not command enough respect among the MPs to be able to discharge his duties successfully as Speaker of Parliament.
Former First Deputy Speaker Esther Mcheka Chilenje is another likely candidate. But as much she may feel that it is now time to get the promotion to become full Speaker of Parliament, and in as much as it may be politically correct to have a full female Speaker of Parliament, the general feeling is that she is not ready.
Chilenje has never really come to the party as Speaker of Parliament, and it was easy to forgive her because she was Deputy Speaker. It will be an uphill task for her this time around to convince the largely acrimonious parliament that she has now come of age to become full Speaker of Parliament.
Bright Msaka is probably the one best suited to become Speaker of National Assembly. He is trained lawyer and career diplomat who is well versed in the operations of government and its sub systems.
In as much as this would be his first term as Member of Parliament, he is the one with probably the most relevant experience having worked as Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet for many years.
Msaka is also a cool and measured politician, with a deliberative character, which are some of the best attributes for one to be Speaker of National Assembly.
The respect that he was able to command in his role as Minister of Lands and Housing and as Minister of Education would be easily transferred to the august House and the DPP stands a better chance of succeeding with him at the parliamentary helm.
- *Kajiso Emerson Mkandawire is a Blantyre-based social and political expert and writes for Nyasa Times as a columnist
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