Apparently, former vice-president Cassim Chilumpha is a strong believer in the idea that there is strength in numbers. That is why, you could say, he is forming a political party to add to the numbers and balloon the registry of parties. Beyond the numbers, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the new political party in the making, the People’s Assembly for Democracy and Development (Padd), will be another version of DPP, PP, UDF and MCP.
Perhaps, lost to Chilumpha is the obvious fact that what we need are not more political parties, but sound ideas and an unwavering commitment to pursuing them, features that are in terribly short supply in a nation that has been unlucky with its leadership. From what we know, Padd and the former UDF heavyweight are on the scene only to exploit the goodies of politics.
Lest we forget, Chilumpha was one of the pillars of the nauseatingly corrupt UDF regime. For me, he didn’t do enough to demonstrate in word and action that he was the only fish in the poisoned UDF pond that genuinely believed in the evils of corruption and abuse of office.
While government, the party and the system in which they operated was bigger than Chilumpha, it was possible for the former vice-president to show the world that he was the last man standing in the fight against corruption.
To make matters worse for him, he was caught up in the storm surrounding the K187 million corruption scam that ripped the Ministry of Education between 1998 and 1999. Fine, the corruption case against him was dropped due to lack of evidence, but the fact that he was never cleared through the courts leaves a cloud hanging over his head.
More importantly, the K187 million paid for fictitious projects disappeared on his watch as minister of finance at the time. In the same way that he would have taken the credit had the ministry performed exceptionally well, Chilumpha shared the liability for the chaos that rocked the ministries of education and finance. Is this the man we want to become our president some day? Not for me.
And then what unique values and ideas set Padd apart from the crowd? According to interim secretary general Levy Luwemba, the party is defined by ideas such as devolution of powers through decentralisation, creation of a strong national economy, open and democratic government as well as free enterprise. Sounds samey and tired? Well, that’s because that is what these ideas are. Haven’t we heard all this more than a million times?
Even worse, we are told the team Chilumpha is cobbling up to lead the party is the catalogue of the same names from other parties who have wrecked and tainted our politics. So, if you are hoping that Chilumpha, Luwemba and company are in town to freshen things up in our democracy, get disappointed now and recover before the party is launched.
Talking about political parties in general, it is not by chance that globally there is a trend marked by weakening popular identification with parties and increasing mistrust of these institutions. The general popular perception of parties across the world is that they exist primarily as platforms for politicians to steal from the State and enrich themselves.
These are issues that have echoes in our own politics after MCP, UDF, DPP, PP and other parties have left us behind as they steamed forward in their search for the ‘political dividend’ in the form of personal benefits for their leaders and some followers.
As a product of this political structure, Padd will be no different. In keeping with the spirit of its name, those claiming the holy pedestal today will use it to pad their pockets and earn government positions for its leaders who will try to deregister the organisation when the governing party comes calling with some irresistible carrots.
By the way, Chilumpha is a fine academic whose books in commercial law have earned their place in law studies. If I were him, I would rather spend my time teaching and writing books instead of forming parties that nobody needs.
My last word is that it is high time political parties justified their value in our politics and democracy. Being there simply to be part of a crowd is not the reason we need parties. I hope Chilumpha gets this message.
- The article appeared in The Nation’s column ‘My Last Word’