Malawi’s failing democratic standards worrisome -NGOs

Malawi’s civil society organisations (CSOs) have expressed great concern over the deteriorating democratic standards within political parties in the country.

Two of the country’s popular CSOs, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) say Lack of intra-party democracy augurs badly for the future of Malawi’s democracy, and it must be a cause for concern for all Malawians.

“As long as there is no democracy within parties, we can hardly foster a vibrant democratic culture at national level. We therefore hereby urge leaders of all political parties to open the political space within their respective parties and permit unhampered participation of all members who aspire for leadership,” the two CSOs say in their joint press statement forwarded to Nyasa Times.

Undule: Warrisome

The organisations are urging parties in the country to let everyone wanting power or leadership within their parties to freely contest as the “absence of strong political commitment to values of intra-party democracy, guarantees of equal opportunity and free participation etched in party constitutions amount to nothing.”

Intra-party democracy

The statement signed by CHHR executive director Undule Mwakasungura and Gift Trapence of Cedesay their conviction is that political parties cannot be expected to be championing democracy at national level, when within their own parties, democracy remains illusory.

“That would only amount to sheer hypocrisy. Tenets of democratic culture must first be nurtured within the political parties, and only when the political parties have fully embraced democracy can they competently play their role in entrenching democratic values at national level,” the statement says.

The two say they are also saddened with the escalating problem of founder syndrome in almost all political parties in the country.

They say the party founders are automatically presidents of the respective parties, and they pull their weight around to block anyone who is harboring a presidential ambition.

“When the question of succession arises, they decide who should assume the reins. Their favorite candidates are lavished with resources while those who challenge their hand-picked candidates ran afoul of the hand-picking authority, and excuses for kicking them out of the system are invented,” they observe.

The watchdogs are imploring all political parties to show their commitment to intra-party democracy by holding credible conventions and allowing party members to vote for their preferred candidates in a free and fair electoral process which will breathe a new lease of life into our democracy.

Warrisome

Turning to the recent emergence of factions within political parties, particularly in the major opposition, Malawi Congress (MCP) and United Democratic Front (UDF), and the issue of succession in the ruling DPP, the CSOs state the trend is not only unacceptable but also hugely worrisome and must be stopped.

“The continued fighting in UDF and MCP is giving Malawians no hope,” CEDEP and CHRR say in their statement.

Adds the statement: “This internecine political in-fighting, which culminates into formation of factions and, worse still, disintegration of political parties, is a natural consequence of absence of intra-party democracy, needless to mention the fact that such political infighting weakens the party and dents the credibility of its leadership.”

The organisations observe that parties in the country have failed to adhere to tenets of constitutionalism which provide for party conventions and “guarantee” equal opportunities for any member to freely contest for leadership roles.

“More often than not, there have been no such party conventions, and where such conventions take place, they merely serve the ignoble purpose of rubber-stamping the candidacy of the incumbent torch-bearer or a person who has been hand-picked by some authority within the party,” states the statement.

CEDEP and CHRR observations are in line with the historic Pastoral Letter of 31st October, 2010, in which Catholic bishops, among a broad range of issues of concern, bemoaned lack of intra-party democracy in the country.

In the letter aptly titled Signs of the Times, the revered men of God urged political parties in Malawi to embrace democracy by providing “ways and means to make it possible for all members to participate fully and give aspirants the opportunity to freely contest for key positions.”

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