Too many political parties harming Malawi democracy

In the 1961 election there were four parties namely Christian Liberation Party, UCP, UFP and Malawi Congress Party (MCP). As the young country was rapidly going into Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s dictatorial rule after independence in 1964, the other political parties were declared illegal. Nobody was to form another party parallel to Kamuzu’s MCP. Anyone who dared to go against this directive risked their life. For almost three decades, Malawi was under one party dictatorial rule by the Ngwazi and his MCP.

Around 1992, some courageous citizens became vocal in denouncing the cruel and oppressive MCP rule. These included Chakufwa Chihana, Bakili Muluzi and Roman Catholic bishops, among others. Though usually using different strategies and media, and from independent camps, they united in expressing their dissent against the one party rule. They all called for multiparty democracy.

Indeed the Ngwazi bowed down to the pressure, though he went around campaigning against multiparty. He claimed “multiparty ndi nkhondo”(multiparty is war). One might say there was some element of sense in his propaganda statement, looking at the way parties in Malawi consider themselves as real adversaries to one another.

Malawians go to polls in 2014

Nevertheless, in a referendum that took place on 14 June, 1993, people chose multiparty over one party system of government.

In 1994, Malawi had its first post-dictatorial multiparty elections in which Muluzi’s United Democratic Front (UDF) emerged victorious over major contestants like MCP and Chihana’s Alliance for Democracy (AFORD).

I have deliberately taken the time and initiative to go through all that history, for a purpose.

Following the defeat of “Tambala wakuda” (MCP’s black cock) by “Nyale” (lamp), which were symbols for one party and multiparty respectively in the referendum, numerous political parties were formed.

In 1999, Bingu wa Mutharika, now president of the republic of Malawi, formed his United Party (UP) and contested in the election in which he performed badly. He was later picked to be UDF’s torch bearer in 2004 and a year later he resigned from the party, forming Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of which he is president till date. Uladi Mussa also formed his own Maravi People’s Party (MPP) after being booted out of DPP. Currently, he is the only member of parliament of MPP.

After tussling bitterly over party leadership with John Tembo in MCP, Gwanda Chakuamba formed the Republican Party (RP) in the run up to the 2004 general election, only to de-register it a few years later. He did this because he was appointed as vice president in the then just-formed DPP. His move did not go well with his counterparts who dragged him to court on that.

Nevertheless, the party remained de-registered that Stanley Masauli and his fellows just registered a new party, New Republican Party. Of course after falling from grace, Chakuamba went to NRP but they told him point blank never to expect to take over leadership.

Chakuamba later announced his retirement from active politics though he has since bounced back. Brown Mpinganjira also formed National Democratic Alliance (NDA) after disagreements in UDF. His party managed to scoop a number of parliamentary seats in the 2004 general election but not the hot seat. Just as Chakuamba, he dissolved it as he backtracked to UDF. Mpinganjira is another rolling stone, always on the move. He is no longer with UDF.  He is now donning orange with the Vice President Joyce Banda in her People’s Party (PP), another party formed after the VP was chased out of DPP.

The incumbent VP, together with Khumbo Kachale, was booted out of DPP in December 2010 allegedly for setting up parallel structures in the party. A few months later, she launched her party. Even the former Attorney General Ralph Kasambara formed his own CODE immediately after being stripped off his position.

AFORD has not been spared from the trend. At one point in time, a parallel party bearing the name GAFORD was formed after the leaders were being accused of mismanaging the party. This chip is since defunct. And there was Mgode.

In the run up to the 2009 election, all did not go well when it came to choosing AFORD’s presidential candidate. This led to another break up, with Loveness  Gondwe, forming National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). This again did not go far as it has since merged into PP.

The People’s Progressive Movement (PPM), now headed by Mark Katsonga, was formed by Aleke Banda, Jimmy  Korea-Mpatsa and others after Aleke was shown the exit door in the UDF.

Amunandife Mkumba,  Kamlepo Kalua, James Nyondo. . .all had and have their own political parties. But the problem is that most of these parties are more of one-man or, as commonly called, briefcase parties.

Take for example, Kamlepo’s MDP. I recall one day he was being interviewed on one of these radio stations. He failed to name just five other members of his party, saying it is not good to do so because they are businessmen (if that has anything to do with politics anyway). If they knew that they are businessmen, why then did they involve themselves in politics? He just mentioned one other person apart from himself.

Indeed these parties are just available by name, on dog-eared paper, in briefcases. Go to the grassroots, they will say they do not know it. These other parties do not even have established party structures. Fact.

Most of these parties are just formed either out of frustration or greed for power. I wonder why one cannot just hop into another party, after being expelled from the other. The obvious answer would be ‘difference in principles and agenda!’ Have a good look at all these parties. They are all the same. Same agenda but with just different vocabulary and sentence construction. The only thing that distinguish them are the respective party regalia, the rest just exactly the same. Recycled ideas and manifesto. No wonder they call each other recycled politicians!

Another deadly virus in the whole system is that those who found a party take it as a personal entity. Take the instances of Mpinganjira and Chakuamba. They dissolved their parties because they were leaving. UDF also was at one point in time dancing to Muluzi’s tune. Third term, hand-picking Bingu as its candidate in the 2004 election, and Atcheya appointing himself as presidential candidate in 2009. As if that is not enough he even imposed Tembo on UDF party die-hards after his bid hit an iceberg.

In DPP, same story. Everything rests on Bingu’s shoulders. Tembo holds MCP with such a tight grip that nobody dares challenge him. Political parties or personal estates? Do these parties advance their agenda, if any, or the dreams of their godfathers? Think over that.

I personally commended Henry Phoya when he said he would not form a new party but would rather join one of the existing parties. True to his words, he joined MCP.

And now Davies Katsonga, who voluntarily resigned from DPP, joining his former party UDF, is in the process of registering a new party named Chipani Cha Pfuko (CCP). Why? The usual recycled reasons!

But do we really need all these parties? Just fancy, the United States, the world’s most democratic nation has just two major parties. Britain our old mother also has only two. Come to Malawi, more than 30! Many of these only appear during a general election, not to contest their candidates but to just say “such such a party also supports this candidate” as if they have a large following anyway.

With all these parties around, I feel they are just doing more harm than good to our growing democracy. All they do when they wake up every morning is castigating one another, instead on focusing on development issues. It is like they are in some kind of a battle, interestingly it is both intra-party and inter-party battles. I wish they had proved Kamuzu wrong, that ‘multiparty sinkhondo‘ (multiparty is not war).

More than 30 political parties and counting! Perhaps that is the real definition and understanding of MULTIPARTY politics!!

About the writer:

I am a student at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College. I am in first year doing Bachelor of Arts Communication and Cultural Studies. I am also a holder of a Certificate in Journalism obtained from Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ) in 2010 and I am a blogger (www.hallucinations2010.wordpress.com).

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