Lack of intraparty democracy in most of the country’s political parties has been mentioned as a key factor why Malawi’s democracy is failing to grow.
The observation comes weeks after some political parties in the country locked horns over party leadership.
Chief among notable examples is the division in Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) where after holding its controversial elective conference in Lilongwe, the party ended up electing two leaders, one faction came up with Enoch Chihana as the party’s president while the other faction settled for Frank Tumpale Mwenifumbo as AFORD’s president.
Another party to fall in a similar situation is the country’s oldest party Malawi Congress Party (MCP) which also held its convention after a lengthy court injunction battle that started when an MCP faction felt cheated.
This political cancer, however, has not spared the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) where recently the country’s Vice President Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima resigned from the party.
He went a step further by assuring the politburo that he would not challenge his boss Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika at the just held elective convention for the position of the president.
Things in the DPP have fallen apart further as some disgruntled DPP party members have formed the Chilima Movement that seems to be gaining momentum by each and passing day as the 2019 tripartite elections clock ticks closer.
These developments, a renowned political commentator says, are not healthy to the country’s young democracy as charity begins at home but should not end there.
In an exclusive interview with this reporter, a Zomba based renowned political analyst Ernest Thindwa said the weakest element in Malawi’s democracy project has been undemocratic and malfunctioning political parties that suffer leadership fixation such that existing generation’s figuration and political practices in our political parties, will remain a major threat and constraints to our aspirations for a full blown and widely rewarding democracy.
“If political parties which are supposed to act as a bridge between citizens and the government have not embraced democracy, it is inconceivable that same parties can observe and champion democratic ideals at national level once elected into power,” Thindwa said.
When Thindwa was asked whether recent dramatic events that have unfolded in some major political parties as the country is preparing for the 2019 tripartite elections are healthy for democracy, he said prospects for the 2019 elections do not look promising as the majority of Malawians will be robbed of having a potentially rich pool of leaders from which they can make an informed electoral choice.
He added that most candidates who will appear on the presidential ballot paper will be imposed on the electorates by their respective political parties through political antics of the few elites.
“Parties and their leaders have not traditionally been comfortable to allow genuine competition for the party’s leadership position. This practice has blocked the emergence of a rich pool of prospective party leaders from which quality party and the country at large can be identified with,” he said.
According to Thindwa, political leaders need to nurture democracy within their political parties and translate the same at national level. He said the country’s political culture will need to undergo a significant change so that parties evolve into mass parties where citizens take a lead as opposed to the current trend where few elites move the party agenda and members should be genuinely encouraged to freely express their views and challenge for any party position without fear of reprisal.
“Parties are advised to ensure that the will of the people at both party and national level is respected. Adherence to constitutional provision and more democratic practice should help parties to address potential problems that emerge during the election period,” the analyst said.
However, political parties have different views towards these observations saying intra-party democracy exists in Malawi’s political parties.
National Publicity Secretary of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Nicholas Dausi said his party is the most democratic party in the country as evidenced by a free, fair and credible elective convention held recently in Blantyre where people were free to contest for any position in the party.
“Let me say this without fear of contradiction, the DPP is an institution which believes in the existence of intra-party democracy. Our convention went on well without any court injunction hiccups, people voted freely. Delegates voted, no any other position was imposed on anyone whatsoever, that is a clear sign of mature politics and that is intra-party democracy at its best,” Dausi said.
The DPP Publicist challenged other political parties to open up even to women who aspire for higher positions in political parties as one way of embracing the 50:50 campaign as the country is preparing for the forthcoming general elections.
“We cannot talk about intra-party democracy if we fail to give women voice. On that people can agree with me that the DPP is the only party so far that has a female Secretary General Greseldar wa Jeffrey and International Affairs Dr. Jean Kalirani respectively. On top of that, at our indaba, everyone was allowed to contest for any position whether new or old party members,” Dausi said.
He said as Malawi is heading towards the 2019 tripartite elections and is also commemorating 54 years of independence and self-rule, the country’s political mindset has to change if we are to grow democratically.
However, Emily Mkamanga, a Mzuzu based political commentator said it is high time political parties started upholding rule of law by among others embracing intra-party democracy.
She is of the opinion that time of political position seekers taking voters for a ride is over, adding voters should use the 2019 tripartite elections as a tool for not voting for leaders who have been imposed on them by powers that be.
“Leaders ought to accommodate dissenting views, leaders should be able to allow everyone’s voice to be heard, political parties should also allow everyone to contest and compete for any position in the party. If this fails then we have a problem and the whole political system is good for nothing,” Mkamanga said.
Mkamanga noted that all this comes at a time when leaders are greedy for power which usually leads to dictatorship. She therefore asked Malawians to condemn such leaders who must not be voted into power during the 2019 general elections as doing so would mean slowing down the sustainable growth of the country’s hard won democracy.
On the other hand, AFORD brushed aside assertions that there are leadership wrangles in his party, arguing that there is only one legitimate elected leader in the party who is Frank Tumpale Mwenifumbo.
According to the party’s presidential Chief Secretary Blessings Mdulli Chirwa, during the AFORD’s elective convention held on 1st May, 2018 in Lilongwe, out of 28 districts of the party’s structures, 25 brought eligible delegates voted Honourable Frank Mwenifumbo as the party’s 2019 torch bearer and that clearly shows how democratic the party is.
“Our president was elected at the convention by the majority from across Malawi. And after the convention, Honourable Mwenifumbo has invited everyone who has issues with the new leadership to come for dialogue. Up to date there is nobody who has come forward, so to us it means everyone is comfortable and what is remaining now is to build the party for the 2019 general elections,” Chirwa said.
As Malawi goes to the polls in May 2019, it remains to be seen whether parties will be democratic enough by holding primaries in all constituencies even where there are already serving MPs.
Right now the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) is busy putting in place several electoral processes in preparations for the polls whose voter registration exercise begun on June 26 and will end on November 9, 2018 to all eligible voters who are 18 and above and those who will have clocked 18 on the last day of registration. The registration exercise which is for the first time biometric will run for 8 phases.