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The future of opposition

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Last time, at the Mulhakho wa Alhomwe, former president Bakili Muluzi spoke of the need for unity in the ailing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The chairperson pointed at the cracks that we all can see in that party and asked its leader, Peter Mutharika, to address them with much-needed urgency. Muluzi’s concern bears on a lot of things, among them the future – of not only the DPP – but also opposition to the incumbent regime. There seems to be a vacuum in our political structure, and it is dangerous if left unchecked.

When the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) rose to power, the opposing side in Parliament was dealt a big blow for most parties rode on the back of the MCP as alliance partners. The Tonse Alliance may have been good for it came together to topple a corrupt establishment, but that amalgamation of nine parties may not be as good for democracy. With a lot of functional political parties on one side of the divide, Malawians looked up to the DPP and their bedfellows, United Democratic Front (UDF), to pose a strong challenge to the establishment. But these two parties have so far proven to be lacking in this mammoth task.

Part of the reason the DPP is failing to do its work is the lack of unity that Muluzi mentioned in his address. Since they were unceremoniously dethroned, the party has failed to bring any sense within its ranks such that there have been embarrassing incidents of infighting. At one time, party officials, including Brown Mpinganjira, were slapped in public like toddlers by people also believed to be party fanatics. Violence has always been in the DNA of the DPP, and they have tried to use force before to force Malawians into submission – something that they failed at during the Bingu wa Mutharika era. Today, they are fighting each other violently. Since we have seen them wielding pangas before, they may just hack each other.

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What is sad is that when strong opposition parties like the DPP and the UDF are non-functional, our democracy stands to suffer. We have seen how the current regime is running things and we have had questions regarding some of their decisions and the laws that they are passing. But we, as citizens, can only complain from a distance. We need politicians, whom we entrusted with power, to challenge the system from within sacred chambers like the Parliament. As such, we should not be having rival camps wasting time-fighting within their parties when we need these men and women to safeguard our democracy and save this country.

Another big problem we have is that parties within the Tonse Alliance are tongue-tied and may not speak even if they see something going wrong. This problem hinges on the nature of our politics, which is grounded in self-interest. Ours is a politics of “I should eat and be quiet”, and very few politicians (if any) care about the state of the nation. As such, much as we have seen smaller fish in the alliance airing out their misgivings, significant partners of the alliance – like UTM – may not say anything even if the ship was sinking. They have food in their mouth – how can they talk when they are eating?

Had we a political system that thrives on policy and sound ideologies, we would not have been having problems with checks and balances from the opposition. But most of our political parties are not built on any stable and sustainable ideology. They are built on opportunism. This means that when they have the opportunity to eat, they will be as useless as defunct until the time comes for them to revive their opportunity during campaigns. As for now, we do not have the UTM, Alliance for Democracy, People’s Party, and any of these small parties rallying behind MCP. They are practically dead.

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The death of these parties also signals the death of opposition in our political structure at the moment. This sad development points to a gloomy future of our democracy, which is missing certain key elements. A strong opposition is necessary for any functioning government, and it may just be the solution to curbing evils like corruption, nepotism, and cronyism that bedevil our country. The future of any democracy lies in the strength of its players and, for now, our democracy is in shambles and the future is not promising.

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