By Zallan Ntata:
It would be a mistake to be holding pretests and demonstrations with a misguided belief that the solution to Malawi’s problems is simply the resignation of Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) Chairperson Jane Ansah or the holding of fresh presidential elections if that is what is ultimately ordered by the courts in the ongoing court case.
Malawi has reached a very crucial juncture of its democracy and there is more at stake in the social upheaval we are now going through than simply democratically and transparently choosing a new leader.
That is not to say the protests are not important. On the contrary, they are very necessary and must be sustained with even greater vigilance when what is really at stake is fully understood.
After all, one of the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined in the Malawi Constitution is the right to demonstrate. It is a very powerful right which, if used correctly, can lead to essential changes to the governance structures that we have.
As we all know, since the dawn of democracy in 1994, Malawi has had a fair share of institutional failures because of a weak overall governance structure.
In general, despite having remedies that are supposed to address all failures, the current governance structure has failed to deal with a culture of corruption, abuse of power by the president and so-called “ruling party” members.
These failures are responsible for the incompetent and unreliable government officials believing that they are untouchable and refusing to resign even when it is evident that the majority of the people they serve have lost confidence in them.
A good example is the current impasse between the citizenry and Ansah. Major demonstrations have been taking place to force Ansah to resign because of her incompetent and poor handling of the May 21 elections and, yet, Ansah refuses to resign and has even managed to convince some DPP women to cry and mourn and even march in her defence.
As the public demonstrates and remonstrates against Ansah and for new elections to held, however, it is important to bear in mind that many reforms that were suggested by institutions like the Law Commission have failed to materialise because those individuals (often politicians) responsible for initiating the process of reform are the ones enjoying the status quo. They, therefore cannot change what is making them stinking rich and helping them swim in absolute power.
As a matter of fact, the abuse of power by the President and his cronies has reached a point where institutions such as Malawi Police Service and Malawi Broadcasting Corporation no longer work for all Malawians but rather work for the so-called ruling party. Although the term “ruling party” is itself a misnomer in Malawi’s governance framework and unrecognised by the Republican Constitution, these so-called ruling party cadres control government institutions and take the law into their own hands. They cause havoc and behave lawlessly because they are protected by the President and his party and can go without being restrained or arrested.
During the protests referred to above, it had to take Malawi Defense Force soldiers to put them in their place when these political party cadets started beating up protesters who were demanding electoral justice and the resignation of Ansah.
The botched-up election, the refusal of Jane Ansah to resign and the need for soldiers to protect citizens’ rights when there is no war in the country all point to one very fundamental fact: The country’s governance framework is rotten and desperately in need of a complete overhaul. Malawians should not need the army to be the solution to domestic upheavals when there is a working police service in the country.
This state of affairs is what brings us to the point I made at the beginning. What is at stake in the protests and in the public anger in Malawi is not simply the need for Ansah to resign or for fresh presidential elections to be held. The country is going to continue drifting until serious governance reforms are implemented.
Given that those that ascend to power have, so far, all been unwilling to implement the needed reforms, it is imperative, as we have this opportunity of public upheaval, to demand that the country should not return to business as usual until there is a momentous and radical change in our governance and constitutional order.
When this is fully understood, the real question that needs pursuing by the protesters and demonstrators becomes: Who is going to initiate the necessary reforms that will help the country.
The answer is very simple. Not the courts or the politicians, but the people. The people must not wait. They cannot afford to wait. The time is now, during this period when people are unhappy and looking to change the future of Malawi, to demand a complete overhaul of the governance structures and bring about the necessary changes that will ensure that no political party will ever take Malawians for granted again.
As a continuation of the current demonstrations, the citizens should demand the following changes:
First and foremost, the amalgamation of a parliamentary democracy together with a presidential one is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Having a presidency in whom is vested all the powers of State, while also we continue to carry over some political party power means that democracy is defeated because we are neither a proper republic or a proper parliamentary democracy but a mixture of the two.
This is what gives our so-called ruling parties powers that they should not have, and creates the undesirable framework of patronage, nepotism and corruption. I suggest that the constitution should be amended to remove the requirement for voting in a president and make Malawi a proper parliamentary democracy where the voters vote simply for members of Parliament (MPs) or for a political party, and then letting the political parties choose the leadership
Second, the powers of the leadership (presidency in this case, but prime minister or president in the case where the above amendment is implemented) should be curbed to ensure that appointments are not used as carrots and rewards for demanding loyalty from boot lickers and bribing critics.
Thirdly, laws such as electoral laws, laws guiding the appointment of heads of government institutions such as the Anti-corruption Bureau should be reviewed urgently to reflect international standards and the will of the majority of Malawians.
Additionally, it is important to review the aspects of the Constitution that guide the way Malawians are represented in Parliament to ensure that the voting public is not given a raw deal. This should include the re-introduction of a senate, as a secondary legislative body, and important guidelines for parliamentarians such as recall provisions and a clearer definition of “crossing the floor” in Parliament. An elected official, whether on a party or independent ticket, should not be allowed to change their allegiance after being elected.
It is also necessary to bar individuals from being both an MP as well as Cabinet minister to ensure proper checks and balances and separation of powers.
These demonstrations are a golden opportunity to correct the wrongs that the coming of democracy in 1994 failed to correct.
Those organising and leading the protests need to bear in mind that there are more serious, root solutions that are required for the country than simply for Ansah to resign or for fresh elections to be held. The country does not need simply a superficial window-dressing of the governance problem. It needs a comprehensive treatment of the underlying causes.
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