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Are they ready?

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Soon, the month of May will end. It is important to remember that it was during this month, three years ago, the country decided that they had had enough of Joyce Banda and her People’s Party (PP) administration. Her political party was not elected into office. The circumstances that led to Malawi having its first female president are well known to Malawians. Despite the goodwill that greeted Banda’s ascension to the presidency, she was only in power for two years. In fact, Arthur Peter Mutharika has been in power a year longer than Banda.

There have been several theories as to why Banda quickly lost the support of Malawians within such a short period of time. The theories range from Cashgate to the female factor (the argument that Malawians were not ready for a female president). While this might be true to others, there is a school of thought that characterises the conduct of Banda as lacking the maturity of the office. In other words, she was not ready to govern. She had been accustomed to opposition politics and hence did not plan for being in government.

It is now only two years before the country goes to the polls again. The political environment is readying itself for elections in 2019. From the comments and conduct of some of the main opposition parties in Malawi, one can only see political manoeuvring in readiness for potential victory. Opposition parties are salivating at the prospect of contesting the elections against the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). But are the main opposition parties ready to govern?

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The way the main opposition parties are run demonstrates a lack of transparency, accountability and common sense in government processes. Beyond the ability to speak fluently in borrowed accents, or parading their supporters when going to court to answer charges, there seems to be nothing to demonstrate their readiness for running the country. Malawians are tired of flashy slogans, rhetorical platitudes and empty promises; they need development and transformation that matches their aspirations as enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi. The Constitution states that all persons and peoples have a right to development and therefore to the enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, and political development. Women, children and the disabled are specifically mentioned.

They need leaders who shall take all necessary measures to help them realise their right to development through the equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources, education, health services, food, shelter, employment and infrastructure. But, by now, Malawians know that most politicians, by their very nature, are an arrogant, self-serving and often disrespectful lot and, therefore, need to be constantly monitored and held to account even when they are in opposition.

While we talk of good governance or indeed transformative leadership as the missing ingredients to Malawi’s democratic utopia, are the opposition parties any better? Do you see good governance in the running of the Malawi Congress Party or PP or Alliance for Democracy? Are there any signs of “transformative leadership” in these political parties? Are these leaders any better than the DPP leadership?

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The next time Malawians go to vote, they must be alert to the current economic conditions that have driven the population into abject poverty, the reason that has made Malawi a permanent member of the poorest 10 economies in the world. Are there any signs that those in the opposition benches will not seek to transform their own economic conditions through looting and other nefarious activities before serving the national interest?

While it is easier to point the shortfalls of those in power, history has told us that it is easier to say what is wrong and extremely difficult to find a solution to the wrongs identified. Malawians will do themselves a service by starting to analyse the potential leaders now. The conduct of opposition politicians— as well as those in the ruling party— points to flaws at different levels and in varying degrees. Unless someone comes up between now and 2019, Malawians have witnessed the competencies of the potential leaders while they have been conducting their business in Parliament. Some of the current opposition leaders have, during their political careers, displayed incompetence, irresponsible leadership and bad judgement, hence, they are not fit to lead Malawi.

Apart from political gamesmanship, some of these opposition parties do not give me confidence that they will be any better. They have no clue on what strategies they will employ to drive the much-needed economic recovery. They have not demonstrated any ability to give confidence that they will mend the broken but critical sectors such as health, education and infrastructure. Some major opposition political parties have demonstrated that they are ready to throw away adherence to the rule of law and respect for the Constitution by supporting projects that have defied the laws of the land when it comes to environmental impact assessments simply because of the money they have received from potential contractors. How can such opposition political leaders fix and strengthen dysfunctional state institutions if they are leading in undermining them? How can they convince us that, when in power, they will fight corruption and patronage across the board? In fact, most of the opposition parties have also demonstrated that competency is superseded by party loyalty, tribalism and regionalism in the appointment of key positions that determine efficient governance of their parties. How will they be different when in power? Are they ready to govern?

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