Uncommon Sense: Will fresh elections solve Malawi’s problems?

Because of the astounding revelations made in the constitutional court exposing how recklessly the Malawi Electoral commission (MEC) handled the May 2019 election, the Malawian political environment is excited by the expectation that the court will order fresh elections. As much as this could be an important milestone in the maturity of our democracy, I must be the hated bearer of bad news: the transformation of Malawi will take more than just a matter of transparently and credibly electing a new president.

Malawi’s problems are deep and require a much more serious surgery to take out the cancerous tissue, not just a cosmetic one that covers the visible impediments.

True economic prosperity requires a solid political foundation. That foundation will be formed when whoever we elect as the leadership of our country addresses the underlying governance framework problems that have created the nation’s political problems. In this article let me point out just three on them.

First, the Constitution of Malawi needs to be reviewed so that it becomes an instrument that promotes democracy and good governance, and not hinder it by having within its provisions ambiguous and conflicting sections that present severe difficulties for leaders to follow and for the courts to enforce.

Provisions are required that can address the lack of morals and integrity in politicians that end up hurting and exploiting those that they are supposed to serve and represent. The section 65 crossing the floor provision, for example, along with the now repealed “recall” provision, was intended to control the pendulum tendencies of members of parliament and guarantee the electorate the assurance that their MPs would continue to represent them on the terms and principles under which they were elected.

Because the section was never properly entrenched in the constitution to protect its importance, it has been a subject of parliamentary tampering and political controversy since the days of BakiliMuluzi and the UDF. The Constitution therefore needs to be reviewed to ensure that parliamentarians are perpetually serving with the full mandate of their constituents.

This requires a clearer and more restrictive definition of the concept of crossing the floor and the entrenchment of the provision so that the loss of a seat for a parliamentarian who crosses the floor is immediate and automatic, leaving very little room for diverse interpretation and making it easier for parliament, the courts and the electoral commission to enforce.

In this regard, the powers of the Speaker of the National Assembly need to be clearly defined and strengthened, enabling him to declare seats of parliamentarians that cross the floor vacant without fear of an injunction being made against him.

Additionally, the court rulings on Section 65 that have complicated the operation of the section need to be superseded by a clearer constitutional provision that leaves absolutely no room for any kind of crossing the floor whatsoever. The fact that members of parliament have been allowed to be on the side of one party today and at the flip of a coin be on the side of a different party tomorrow is greatly responsible for Malawi’s retarded political development.

Additionally, the question regarding the conduct of the vice president as presented in the referral that Mutharika presented to the constitutional court regarding the then Vice President Joyce Banda remains relevant and demands resolution.

In this regard, it is important to address the underlying reasons why every administration has had a strained relationship with its vice president. Vice president seem to have the tendency of embarking on takeover strategies as soon as they are elected. In order to curb this tendency, the constitution could give powers to the President to remove his or her vice president.

Alternatively, the constitution could limit the period of time that a vice president can run government after an elected president has died or has been otherwise incapacitated to a period of 90 days, after which an election would have to be conducted.

Secondly, the political and administrative system needs to be reformed so that leaders are able to tap fully into the advice of professionals that are capable of analysing political developments dispassionately, rather than being advised by individuals that are simply thinking of advancing their own mostly financial agendas. This necessitates curbing or controlling the almost inevitable tendency of leaders to succumb to the trappings of power. The president’s powers of appointment, for instance, need to be curtailed to ensure that appointments are based only on merit and not political patronage.

Under the current dispensation, important appointment – and dismissals – that impact immensely on the country’s development all have to be sanctioned by the President- some directly and others indirectly. It is ridiculous, for instance, that according to the constitution requires the appointment of the Director of the Anti-corruption Bureau to be approved by the Public Appointments Committee of parliament once it has been made by the president, and yet a serving director, having gone through such a rigorous appointment process can easily be dismissed at the president’s whim and fancy.

The examples, however, are endless, and include such important appointments as boards of various government organs and bodies, chief executive officers of statutory corporations and principle secretaries of government ministries.

It is the prevailing constitutional and administrative order that has encouraged the appointments to these crucial positions on the basis of political patronage or tribal considerations rather than entirely on merit.

The opening up for participation in politics of new faces with vibrant and innovative ideas on how to redefine the country’s political and economic goals is also crucial. Perceptive politicians worthy of leading Malawi are those that will ensure participation of individuals with fresh and youthful ideas in developmental politics by opening up clear opportunities, encouraging initiative, and providing resources and encouragement.

Finally, painful as it maybe, the umbilical cord connecting the country to donors and making it aid dependent needs to be cut. It is vitally important for Malawi to seek out courageous leaders that are vigilant enough and determined enough to lead her into charting her own course. An attempt to do this in 2010 revealed that a more deliberate and gradual approach needs to be taken in order to achieve it without unduly disturbing the Malawian economy. In light of the fact that the country has for so many years had about one third of its budget supported by donors, a sudden removal of the donor contributions from the budget is always going to result in dire economic consequences. The move towards a zero-deficit budget needs to be gradual and deliberate, adjusting donor dependence downwards from one fiscal year to another, while simultaneously exploring and developing effective means of raising national revenue. That noble goal would then be reached without traumatic consequences on the nation’s economy.

Nevertheless, it is necessary, if Malawi is going to achieve true sovereignty, for the country to devise a strategy for curtailing the heavy dependence on donor support. As was graphically demonstrated by the economic crisis that ensued within four months of Joyce Banda taking over the Malawi presidency, relying on western donors and blindly following their prescriptions for Malawi’s economy is another sure way for achieving economic catastrophe. Buying into the donor programs in a wholesale manner betrays political gullibility of the decision makers and their naivety and lack of appreciation of world affairs.

It is tragic, and more importantly, prognostically ominous for Malawi’s future, that leaders are glorified on the basis of their ability to beg and source foreign aid. It is not upon this road that statesmanship will be born nor is it upon this road that a better, more prosperous Malawi or indeed a better Africa will be created.

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2 years ago

A mtata go to nu and start growing irish potatoes. You lost your plot the time you ram away from.bingus dead body. Pano ndi izi your writings readership has gone down and nobody cares whether you are alive or not. Bwana tiyeni kumangoni basi.

Nyaphapi One
2 years ago

Keep on thinking and writing. One day, some day we will all be singing sweet songs under a palm tree.

Dr. Mvuma
Dr. Mvuma
2 years ago

You have hit the nail in the coffin. One more thing, the appointment of Diplomatic Missions need to be reviewed. Appointing relatives of top government officials has drastically affected the the development of Malawi. Most of them go there as if they are on a holiday ; not to seek developmental overtures for Malawi, so that Malawi can move away from Donor dependence and move towards attracting investors to jointly work with Malawians. I will give a simple example of South Africa. I am resident there and many a time I have had interaction with global business fraternity , I… Read more »

2 years ago

There is a need to clarify the relationship and responsibilities of the State President in respect to the Vice President. The two are a team, why should the State President behave as if he was elected alone. The Vice President bring votes to the Presidential ticket. The Vice President is a State President in waiting and should be given due recognition. In fact the solution should be to give more powers tot he Vice President. The term should also be changed to Deputy President and with it more responsibilities. It is the State President prerogative to tap into the professionals… Read more »

2 years ago

The seriously surgery is what has happened in the Malawi Constitutional Court to expose the nasty dealings of the MEC and DPP. The fact is Muthalika did not win elections hoping to rule the country from the back. That is why you can not hear Muluzi senior talking about 2019 elections after MEC and Muthalika have been exposed in court. Wait and see here. We can allow to be ruled by a person who did not win the ections.

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