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Leading by opposition: When opportunities are lost

The last time I wrote about the opposition, it was to warn its leadership to beware the ides of May. What I meant that time was that as Opposition Party, government in waiting or alternative government, Malawi Congress needed to cut the right image and use the right language.

I raised three concerns:

First the Party was failing to accept failure – or is it defeat – in the polls and strangely was seeking to become part of government regardless of what this did to the party with regarding recognition, support and promise of forming government in future.

Second I was shocked by the party’s support to the federal lobby which was not only being naive and divisive but countering the party’s own long-term ‘One Malawi One Nation’ policy aggressively enforced by Dr Banda since 1964.

Somehow the party seemed oblivious of the fact that supporting federal arrangements was not only too radical a shift of policy hard for its own members to support, it was a show of serious policy instability and a lost opportunity to demonstrate maturity under pressure from disgruntled emotional quarters.

On this matter I recognise the astute position of The Hon John Tembo who expectedly stuck with the ideal of what I will now call ‘One Malawi One Nation indivisible under God’ The party took too desperate a position coming amid increased prospects for takeover sooner rather than later.

Third – that time and up to this day – I argued against the opportunistic narrative of ‘national cake’ which in my view betrays parties’ interests to abuse resources at the expense of citizens.

And I dare stress the point again: ‘there is no national cake to share; there are only resources for all Malawians to access by right of citizenship’ Leaders had better put this principle into their heads once and for all!

Well Malawi Congress Party is at it again:

The party has recklessly exposed itself to criticism on matters of perks and entitlements to near obscene comfort and luxury. This, happening at a time when the ‘war cry’ is austerity and control, is unfortunate for a government in waiting.

This could terminally tarnish the image of both party and leadership. It now seems to me that Dr Lazarus Chakwera is either not fully in control and without an Opposition Agenda that benefits Malawians or he is swayed by ‘little radicals’ who have no idea what damages political organizations.

I must say I agree with The Nation Comment of October 30 that no matter how loud MCP cries foul, President Chakwera and his Deputy Richard Msowoya have sent the wrong message to the electorate.

To me this is not getting knee deep into trouble, it is submerging into reputational mess with both leaders entangled in a not too palatable a debate about privilege for a few by screwing a poor largely voiceless majority.

What we are dealing with here is the cost of greed and clamour for comfort. Both leaders in the party are caught up in matters to do with resources on the claiming end. Worse, the language that the Speaker used targeting government is unfortunate too. At least a national leader!

You see, Congress must not forget that it is still unstable with all the infamous leadership wrangles, demotions and redeployments.

I pray President Chakwera must not underestimate the heavy historical baggage party still needs to trade off such that any mistake made is magnified against the mirror of a background not so attractive to millions.

If I were Congress President – this is incredibly hypothetical – I would invest in image re-engineering moving with speed to take full advantage of opportunities to represent people’s interests in a democracy rocked by corruption and economic infirmities.

Wait, I will illustrate what I mean:

I would have expected the President to work with his Deputy on the terrible revelations emerging from Parliament – if he has jurisdiction over his person and performance

Indeed whether the President has jurisdiction over his deputy in his Speaker role or not what’s emerging from the Assembly invariably negates Congress image and decisively compounds the problems the party has been grappling with, not least it’s hard to salvage historical image.

Malawi is experiencing a lot for Opposition to work on. The best is the donors who are now operating on an oath-like resolution never to fund government.

If hearts be on doing the best for citizens and not on clarifying the legitimacy of contentious frills and entitlements the Opposition is the best to consult development partners, international NGOs and civil society representing the development interests poor Malawians.

Further, the Opposition can intercede with donors and all concerned parties to improve government image and commitment and help create mutual trust between government and donors. What is there to lose – there is all to gain in my judgment!

In the same vein, I expected the Opposition to work with civil society organizations in developing positive strategic ways to address issues with government while ensuring that in these troubled times Malawians maintain peace and calm law and order fixing their eyes on the future.

There have been revelations about externalisation of huge sums of money meant to tackle poverty. Rather than just bash and embarrass government what high profile consultations can the Leader of Opposition and his Economic Team hold with principal players in fiscal control?

As we close: Don’t say you were not warned. It takes time, resources and tact to cultivate a winning image for both party and leader. And that image is certainly never harnessed by getting caught up in defending the indefensible.

You see I do not think Congress would be attacked for scoring cheap political points if it opposed the purchase of luxury vehicles and obscene allowances because Malawians ‘feel the times’ they are passing through.

When will the Leader of Opposition come through as being Presidential rather than as government critique?

It’s all up to you Mr President.

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