The real question that we must be asking in not an inquiry into whether the president said “I am not Malawi” or “I am not Malawian”. Both statements betray a president resigning and shirking his responsibility to lead and ensure that there is peace in the country.
To a president, it should not matter whether he considers himself Malawi as such, or a Malawian or anything else. The fact remains that he is in charge of the country and for all international purposes represents Malawi. If you are still arguing about this point, just take time to remember that when the president spoke at UNGA recently, the international community saw him as Malawi speaking. All of us as a nation spoke through him. To those that watched and those that listened, he WAS and IS Malawi.
Mutharika’s shirking of this identity or responsibility in that speech at the rally was apparently an effort to appeal to Malawians that are rioting and protesting all across the nation to feel a sense of patriotism and take a moment to remember that it is Malawi, their own country that they are destroying.
There is no disputing the fact that ever since the Malawi Electoral Commission controversially declared him as the winner of the presidential election in May, the country has been politically unstable and that this instability seems to be getting worse and worse as the days go by.
I am surprised that president Mutharika and the DPP seem to believe that they can go about their business as usual without paying due attention to the fact that until the elections case is concluded in the court, the president does not have a popular mandate and therefore theirs is a minority government that needs to tread carefully to ensure peace and stability.
If there was something I expected and thought could be said for a weak minority government with a highly insecure leader, it was my expectation that at least it would prove to be more preferable than a strong government with daft ideas.
My thinking was that failure to win an election by any kind of convincing margin, and with the election itself a matter of a bitter courtroom dispute, there would be humility, soul-searching and a willingness to be civil and accommodating. You would think that without the power of a parliamentary majority with which to crush dissent, and with about 70 per cent of the electorate against the president being leader, the president and the DPP would be less arrogant and have less scope to do things that are mad or bad.
Our democracy is based on majority rule tempered by minority rights. In the past, the major threat to our democracy was the “tyranny of the majority” that cast aside or subverted the constitutional protections of the minority. What we are seeing now, however, is not the tyranny of the majority anymore, but an increasingly irreversible capture of our elected institutions by a focused and uninhibited minority.
The irony is that in the republican constitution, the National Assembly is supposed to be the most democratic institution, reflecting volatile changes in popular opinion, while the presidency is supposed to assure some degree of stability and moderate change. But as is clear now, the presidency is in volatile and uncertain times, and unfortunately, parliament is failing to provide any sense of sanity as evidenced by its failure to even correct the executive on the appropriation of K1.8 billion for stadiums, and many other issues regarding which parliament is choosing to remain quiet and silent.
If ever there was a time for parliament to be more active and forceful, it is now when the country has a presidency that is only representing 35 per cent of the country. It is the responsibility of our members of parliament to ensure that the president understands that he is both Malawi and a Malawian and that the duty of addressing the riots that are sweeping through the country rests squarely upon his shoulders as Chief executive.
In this regard, Parliament cannot idly be standing by or cheering as the president shirks responsibility and stands in political podiums declaring that he is not Malawi and therefore he has no duty to do anything at all.
Considering that the majority of the population in the country is unhappy with his so-called electoral victory, Peter Mutharika’s and the DPP’s attitude need to be reconciliatory and forthcoming, willing to engage in contact and dialogue and more understanding about the popular anger against them. Arrogant and angry outbursts from the podium disparaging the masses for destroying their own country suggests a detachment that will only fuel the anger rather than curb it. What Malawi needs now is a leader that is willing to analyse and understand the situation and deal with it with political shrewdness and wisdom.
Post-election riots are not a novel occurrence. They have resulted in elections across the world where candidates have won with even larger percentages than Mutharika’s 35. Recently in Indonesia for example, riots followed after a candidate was declared to have won an election by 55 per cent of the vote. The way to deal with these is to be more aware of the public mood and be more accommodating rather than detached, condescending and arrogant.
As I have already pointed out, the present instability in the country arises from the fact that 70 per cent of the population is unhappy with the outcome of the election and strongly believes that the person leading them does not have the legitimacy and the mandate to do so. This is a situation that the president and his party, as well as the opposition politicians need to address and for which they must find political solutions.
In the final analysis, we are all Malawi and the responsibility to achieve peace and stability in the country rests upon us all.
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