Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Malawi Parliamentary Elections 2009: Get Rich in 5 Years

Introduction

By end of 2004, indirect campaign for 2009 had already started. Not that those that who inspired to stand 2009 were concerned that the incumbents were not capable or that the electorate deserved better, rather that in 2009, their income capacity could only be boosted by being part of the game. Being an Honourable MP is a career in Malawi, less risky, but where the returns “look” lucrative. In a reasonable short spell of time, most Honourables are able to become rich (not wealthy). I have no idea how the Honourable MPs all of a sudden become rich and maybe it is an area requiring research. Maybe when you become an MP, you become wiser and you are able to direct your income into productive investment. Maybe some of the electorates take care of your basic requirements and all your income is invested. I invite MPs to send their comments and educate us so that we could also aspire to become rich Honourables.

It is therefore not surprising that the activities surrounding primaries among the various parties for candidates for 2009 have been explosive and attracted thousands of candidates across the spectrum of the society, from retired University Professors, international civil servants, former CEOs, to bus drivers, farmers, retired government clerks, musicians etc. I understand that in some constituencies, you had as many as 30 candidates competing in primaries. What the political commentators are predicting though is that none of the parties will have majority in parliament. There will also be lots of Independent MPs. But this article is not about the prediction, rather it is about the preparations for 2009 elections and whether as a country we are getting a good deal out of our MPs. My answer is definitely NOT. The crop leaves a lot to be desired. The inability has nothing to do with education or experience. It has everything to do with the following:

• MPs understanding of their role
• Accountability of MPs to parties rather than electorate
• Detachment of MPs from their constituency in terms of place of abode
• MPs reasons and vision of being an MP
• Status of Democracy in the parties

Role of Members of Parliament

My understanding of an MP is that he/she represents a constituency having gained the right to represent the people in that constituency when he/she received more votes than any of the other candidates during an election. The job of an MP, therefore is to work in Parliament on behalf of all the people in that constituency, - even those who did not vote for him/her, and even if they strongly disagree with the views of the MPs political party, to help with matters for which Parliament or Central Government is responsible for.

Performance of MPs

A number of MPs can claim success in performing the above functions, but I would be surprised if these numbered more than 10% of the MPs. I do not believe being a at all funerals is what the MPs is elected for. I challenge anyone to give contrary views. MPs spend most of their time serving interests of their party leaders and accumulating what they desired in their new career. Most MPs have become contractors, briefcase businesspersons, suppliers of medicines, maize traders, etc. Most if ranked would get 1 out of 6 with 6 being a reasonable performance and 0 being non- performer.

Honourable MP, Where Do you Live?

To be in tune with ones constituency, it is important that MPs should spend most of the time with the people. I fully appreciate the fact that rural Malawi may not be the most ideal place for a former Professor or CEO to live, but then why take up that challenge? One of the criteria for allowing someone to be a candidate could be that he/she must have a home/house in his area and that a higher percentage of his time should be spent in his constituency. Many of our MPs are based ku Tauni (in towns and cities) and worse still, they probably visit their constituencies closer to elections, if at all. No wonder the MP turnover in Malawi is very high.

Honourable MP, Who is your Boss?

One may then ask the question of accountability. Who are MPs accountable to? Is it the electorate or a political party that they belong to? What about the independent MPs? Since the removal of the recall provision, there is reduced risk in taking “Honourable MP” as a career. Why not get rich in 5 years and even if I am not elected again, so what? Make hay whilst the sun shines! This is still a troubling ground and we have to get MPs answerable and the current political parties may not be the right instruments as they themselves may not be accountable.

Party Caucus and Democracy within parties

[The word "caucus" itself comes from the Native People of America and means "to gather together and make a great noise]." http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/primaries.htm

The parties prevailing in Malawi currently have one common feature, dissenting views are strictly prohibited. Although there is a difference in checking dissent, the end result is the same. There seem to be three cases on how the Party Caucus reaches out decisions:

Case 1: Party President present his/her view and makes it clear that should be the party stand and then asks individual members of the Party Caucus of their opinions. {How do you present a dissenting view in this case?}

Case 2: Party President present his/her party’s position or view and questions are not tolerated and reminds MP of their obligations;

Case 3: Party President announces an important issue and hints that if he/she was an MP, he/she would take option B, but it is up to MPs to choose the option they prefer. One brave MP chooses option A and he/she is dressed down and reminded where he/she was picked from

I have never attended any of the Caucus, so I may be miles away from reality but if a few examples reported in the press are anything to go by, I may not be very far from the truth. Please challenge me

Primaries: Do they make sense in Malawi?

As we prepare for 2009, we have read about nullification of primaries, harassment of women candidates, cases of each candidate bringing his/her own committee, candidates protesting because no one stands behind him/her during voting when he/she brought a whole load of supporters to vote for him/her. Maybe our democracy is confused. We are trying to combine a British and USA system and our hybrid is not working. If in Malawi we consider Party as supreme then let the Party Executive nominate candidates, based on agreed criteria within their party and do away with these primaries that are only creating “rich” Chiefs and Village Headmen. On other hand, if we believe the electorate is supreme, then let us have primaries that make sense and make them official with elections being managed and monitored by Electoral Commission.

If we go for the latter option, therefore, I think it will be necessary that primaries for 2014 elections should be managed, organised and conducted by the Electoral commission. Like in the USA, primaries are part of the official activity. Our primaries are chaotic, procedures flawed or unknown, and at the end of the day, may not bring out the best candidates. It will be argued that it will be expensive. Perhaps political parties should pay a specific fee to the Electoral Commission and the Commission would use these resources for the primaries. It is thus imperative that candidates wishing to stand, should pay money to their parties and in turn this money will be paid to the electoral commission. This will ensure that Electoral Commission determines and approves candidates and is able to send monitors and announce results. It is headlines like the following that makes primaries a farce:

LILONGWE, Malawi, Nov 24 (IPS) - Malawi’s primary elections are getting ugly for women candidates. Shoving, derogatory songs and being pelted with stones are just some of the intimidating tactics aimed at discouraging women from contesting the primary elections that will select candidates for the parliamentary polls in May 2009.

Gertrude Nya Mkandawire, one of the strongest members of parliament (MP) for the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP), recently withdrew from the primaries in her Mzimba Solora constituency, in the north, where she was running against 10 men.

Lilian Patel, an MP and chair of the Malawi Parliamentary Women Caucus, blamed party leaders for these problems. Just like the DPP, the other main political parties -- the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) -- are headed by men.

"All political parties in the country have failed to put up deliberate efforts to ensure that women are propped up," said Patel, a UDF member. { http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=44827 ]

On Nov. 13, a primary election in the lake district of Nkhatabay ended with a stampede, when DPP supporters started throwing stones after a dispute over eligible voters. Three women were contesting these primaries.


Conclusion

I think whereas our democracy could be described as the most dynamic in the region (on account of ruling party having less MPs, ruling party becoming opposition on account of President resigning from party; Parliament and Judiciary court battles, Crossing the floor (AKA Section 65) etc) the dynamism has not necessarily worked to strengthen democracy, transparency and accountability, has not brought economic development, has encouraged greed and use of fear as weapon, has created less democracies in political parties, and above all, has created POLITICS as a 21st Century Career for Malawians who want to get RICH within 5 YEARS.

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