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Thinking Development

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By Christopher Guta, PhD:

In my thinking of development, I have alluded to the importance of a country’s political system in engendering development as one of the four capabilities that foster development; the others being innovation systems, governance and openness. In fact, I promised in last week’s entry to shade light on political systems as an aspect of national development, hence the text that follows.

A country’s political system can be reflected though a number of measures. I will discuss some of the measures that have been found to be useful from a capability perspective drawing largely from the information on the global index of democracy.

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The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has a very good model for analysing the index of democracy. It attends to such issues as the electoral process and pluralism where questions regarding the extent of freeness and fairness of the elections for councillors, parliamentarians and president, freedom of voters from security threats, provision of equal campaign opportunities; transparency of financing of political parties; and the reality of opposition parties to be elected are raised.

Equally important in measuring the index of democracy is the functioning of government where the concerns include the extent to which elected representatives are free to determine government policy, the supremacy of Parliament and the availability of checks and balances such that mechanisms exist for the electorate to ensure government accountability. Proper functioning of government is also illustrated by the extent to which foreign powers and organisations determine important functions and policies; and whether or not economic, religious and other powerful groups exercise significant political power parallel to democratic institutions. One other concern, linked in some ways to the undesirability corruption, is the extent to which popular perceptions exist of the extent to which citizens have control over their lives; that is locus of control. Locus of control is very important for the emergence of entrepreneurship in any economy and without entrepreneurs, the effects of learning and innovation; which are essential factors for development, are limited.

Political participation also forms a very important component of a country’s score and rank on the democracy index. Embedded in this component are issues attending to voter turnout for national elections, the degree of autonomy and voice of minorities, representation, in percentage terms, of women in Parliament; the preparedness of citizens to take part in lawful demonstrations and the intensity of effort by authorities such as Mec to promote political participation.

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A mature political system is one where high degree of societal consensus and cohesion exists so as to enable a stable and functioning democracy. Indeed, the relationships between individuals and groups in an economy determine the extent to which social capital can emerge and underpin development through creation of social opportunities. If social opportunities are to contribute to Malawi’s development, political parties that eventually win elections and form our governments need to attend to how intra-community ties – that is societal integration and extra-community ties – that is societal linkages are fostered. I suspect that Malawians of Asian origin, while they may have problems I am not aware of, have high intra-community ties that enable them to lower the cost of business transactions with access to and cost of credit as an example. Malawi’s development will be propelled forward if this community of Malawians also engenders high extra-community ties because that way Malawi will become a nation endowed with high social opportunities.High social opportunities are indicative of a democratic political culture where citizens are high supportive of democratic forms of government. Sadly, though, I read in one of the daily newspapers recently that Malawians’ support for democracy is declining. In fact, according to the EIU Democracy Index, 2018, Malawi’s democratic index has declined from a high of 6.00 in 2013 to 5.49 in 2018 with the indices on the functioning of government and political participation being below the national index of 5.49. Indeed, it is not uncommon to hear people applaud some aspects of the old regime which means that peoples’ willingness to defend democratic values is waning. This can undermine Malawi’s political system and, thus, development.

From a capability perspective, the impact of political systems on development is weaker than innovation systems and governance. However, its effects are strong with respect to national economic fragility; that is – the ability of the country to deal with economic shocks due to weak state capacity and legitimacy. So, before I vote in the forthcoming tripartite elections, I will read the manifestos of the political parties that have lined up for the elections to know what they say on such matters as corruption, public sector reforms, efficiency of public services and participation of women in all aspects of national development. I encourage you to do the same so that we all can vote with both our hearts and heads rather than vote blindly.

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