Politicians’ failure to learn from the past
It started with Malawi Savings Bank (MSB), with the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) declaring that they will not pass the national budget if the government does not rescind its decision to sell its shares in the bank.
When the MSB sell was suspended, the party turned to the Constituency Development Fund, again declaring that the budget won’t be approved until government increased allocations to the fund.
Now it’s about the K92 billion fraud report. MCP says unless the government produces a report on the matter, the budget won’t be passed.
Doesn’t this sound familiar? Remember about “Section 65, yes. Budget, No” during those days when MCP and the United Democratic Front (UDF) commanded a controlling majority in Parliament between 2005 and 2009?
What happened afterwards, however, was that in the subsequent elections in 2009, MCP lost its majority in the house from a whooping 59 seats to 26. UDF too shrunk from 49 to a mere 16.
I t was clear from the elections results that the two parties lost seats even in districts considered their strongholds because voters were not happy with the way they used their combined numerical advantage in the August house.
Currently, MCP – with 48 seats, has regained some strength in Parliament and, together with the People’s Party, commands a legislative majority.
Opposition blunders led to the Democratic Progress Party (DPP) winning majority 114 seats in Parliament in 2009. This however also backfired in 2014 when DPP lost its numbers to the present figure of 50 members.
Again, the loss was a result of voters’ reaction to how the party abused its numbers in Parliament between 2009 and 2012 when it subjected Malawians to suspicious changes that only pointed to a return to dictatorship and oppressive governance in the country.
So, while Parliamentary majority can be sweet for either the opposition or the government side, Malawi’s recent past offers enough lessons of how the same can lead to self-destruction if not used properly.
If you asked me sometime around 2008 as to what I would have preferred between an opposition and a ruling party majority, I would have opted for the government’s strength because of the stress MCP and the UDF subjected to Malawians during those years.
Political tension and uncertainty was the order of the day whenever Parliament was in session. The opposition took advantage of every opportunity available to frustrate government business.
If they wanted their salaries and benefits raised, they would shoot down government bills for no reason at all and threaten to reject the budget until they got what they wanted.
The issue of Section 65, which regulates the movement of MPs from one party to the other in the house, led to prolonged and repeated stalemates between the opposition and the government in the national assembly that led to the stalling of many important bills in Parliament which could not be passed because of the animosity between the two sides.
The opposition indeed went overboard to the point where civil society and churches had to hold demonstrations and vigils against the adamant MCP and UDF MPs.
It did not come as a surprise to many when in 2009, the majority of the MCP MPs, who championed the rejection of government bills in Parliament, were booted out by voters from the August house.
This was clearly a protest vote by the people whose messages should have been loud and clear about what they expect from their MPs in Parliament.
After 2009, the DPP government mistook its landslide victory as a licence to do anything they wanted to this country.
The party went even to the extent of changing the flag, banned court injunctions against the government, introduced stringent controls to public demonstrations and even amended the law to give power to the Minister of Information to ban newspapers.
This time around, Malawians did not wait for elections to react. In July 2011, Malawi witnessed probably the biggest public demonstrations since 1992 when thousands of people went on the streets to protest against the DPP government.
The death of President Bingu wa Mutharika followed in 2012 and the Commission of Inquiry Report on the matter partly attributed this to the stress he may have gone through as pressure mounted against his leadership.
Having experienced the two extreme majorities, the one by the opposition should be the best for the country as it keeps the government in check. If used responsibly, it can lead to better service delivery and governance by the ruling party.
The same can also lead to political tension and uncertainty if abused by the opposition as it happened between 2005 and 2009. The recent developments in Parliament remind me of those dark days. #ThumbsDown to the opposition.
A vibrant writer who gives a great insight on hot topics and issues