Malawis democracy deteriorating further

malawi_bingu_wa2Last week, parliament passed the 2009/10 national budget with much ease. As expected, the debate in the august House was characterised by measured discussions, negligible kindergarten jibes, the absence of frenzy plus, the formalisation of clichs and political euphemism.(pictured: President Bingu wa Mutharika).

It is a situation, which seems to have marked a complete departure from the pre-election discord between the then DPP minority government and the opposition MCP and UDF parliamentary alliance.

President Bingu wa Mutharikas current enlarged parliamentary majority upon Mays landslide victory has finally put a fortified approach to government business in the national assembly. This, as the once powerful opposition appears to be wobbling from the general election pounding defeat with no indication yet, on how the MCP and UDF are to initiate internal democratisation for much needed reform.

From afar, Mutharikas triumph and the present DPP domination in parliament is a symbol of Malawis success the very tale of widespread food security and unabated economic growth.

However, in close proximity, the new political configuration is a familiar scenario. It is the usual circus driven by institutionalised personality-cult, an ugly quest for the consolidation of power and accumulation of personal wealth, as well as, the notorious suppression of political opposition and alternative views.

The naysayers and ruling party spin-doctors might dispute all this whilst leaning on the illusion that Kamuzu and Muluzi did it, why cant Mutharika do it? But a question still hangs on their heads: after experiencing awfully dictatorial and corrupt regimes, has Malawi given up on economic and democratic governance?

DPPs political domination

One would say that the DPP needed a convincing majority to act decisively on its programmes and policies. And lo! With DPPs overwhelming poll success, Malawi is now ready to have local government elections. Certainly, following the general election carnival featuring the Makiyolobasi caricature, posh hummer automobiles and the big screen, DPP has suddenly realised that it has sufficient grassroots support.

DPP is banking on the local polls to strengthen its efforts of laying down a national movement akin to MCPs one-party league. Overdue and significant as they are, the local polls are likely to be exploited to enable the ruling DPP to attain unbridled political dominance. Thus, rather than being an election of another tier of politicians driving the local agenda and governing local assemblies within the framework of effective decentralisation. The present political environment and mood, favours DPP to conquer all assemblies from Nsanje to Chitipa.

Political consensus

Shockingly, the official political discourse abound, appears to be an endorsement of the return of, in parliament and outside, Kamuzu style political consensus echoed in the chorus zonse tidzagwilizana nazo. It is a development that leaves our already weak civil society choked and public and democratic institutions increasingly partisan. And anyone criticising the government is considered wrong, misguided and insane because we all are supposed to see, hear and say no evil.

To many parliamentarians whose habit is underlined by opportunism and lack of independence the demand is always say YES! Otherwise, they risk being seen frustrating the sacred cow in the name of government. No wonder, after smelling the carrot, the exodus of independent MPs to government benches has ensued. Increasingly, some opposition MP are yearning to get the honour associated with sitting on government benches, even if it means being whipped all the way. Besides, the customary strings of patronage and tribalism have, yet again, bloated the cabinet, though a lean one can suffice.

No one disputes that the previous opposition majority might have overstepped its bounds and missed the rare opportunity to serve Malawians better. But the suggestion that the opposition should not scrutinise and criticise government is overly disturbing and counterproductive to democracy. For a fact, Kamuzus 30-year-old one-party dictatorship was built through, suppressing alternative views and demonising political opposition by calling critics and opponents as dissidents who had to be eliminated.

Weak opposition

Indeed, upon grabbing the leadership of House Committees, the DPP has been swift in crafting the removal of MCPs John Tembo as leader of opposition. For DPP, it is both a punitive and therapeutic measure to erase the ghostly nightmares of the abortive impeachment saga and Section 65/budget impasse keenly led by Tembo.

Of course, Tembos fall as leader of opposition might help loosen his firm-hold on the party. However, any renaissance for MCP can only meaningfully happen if it were, to be an internalised agenda pursued democratically by the majority of its members, than by a few opportunistic moles posing as change agents.

While the feeling might be that Tembo has outlived his welcome as party president and opposition leader, the installation of a DPP pawn to lead the opposition in parliament will suffocate political opposition, help consolidate Mutharikas grip on power and push Malawi towards a one-party state. How does the opposition play its role of scrutinising government and holding it to account when a DPP collaborator leads it? Undeniably, the opposition is suffering from lack of internal democracy, an issue that also runs through DPPs spine. The only difference is the latter is enjoying advantages of incumbency.

Public institution bias and mute civil society

But as loud jeers push Tembo through the exit door, convicted with among other issues his conspiracy with UDF to similarly oust Gwanda Chakumba, the decree is that political opposition has no space in the current political dispensation. That is why nobody has attempted to salvage this position for the opposition. There has been no camping and hooting around Lilongwe to oppose this move by DPP.

No one has paid the habitual irate demonstrators to besiege parliament, or paraded partially brainwashed traditional chiefs to debate the gist of this matter on MBC and TVM.

In fact, whilst MBC and TVM are presently fully funded, the two broadcasters still do no want to cover the opposition, unless it is propaganda. The undemocratic argument that, before the May polls, the two could only cover DPP because the opposition approved a mean K1 is permanently stuck. As if the funds the public broadcasters used were from DPPs purse and not public coffers.

Does it surprise anyone therefore that in the days of economic prudence, ESCOM (and others) are mired in financial mismanagement and poor service delivery to the people? This is just part of the story of rampant corruption and abuse of statutory companies by the ruling DPP for campaign purposes and party functions.

Meanwhile, the police reform programme has insulated ruling DPP supporters from any unlawful indulgence. Forget about the spate of armed robberies and random shooting of civilians, the police have a precise eye for opposition MPs wrongdoing which will lead to more loss of seats as come by-elections, opposition candidates will defect to DPP as has happened with UDF candidate in Ndirande. And, MEC is ready to deliver its usual tricks: last minute panic with voters roll, haphazard printing and burning of faulty and appropriate ballot papers, etc.

Constitutional changes

With a parliamentary majority the DPP is spinning with euphoria, ready to use its numerical strength to enact sweeping constitutional changes. The atmosphere in parliament is just ripe enough for Mutharika to get a third-term. Muluzi failed because he did not originally have substantial numbers within the UDF but depended on mercenaries, who thanks to God did not deliver the vote.

Mutharika does not have to argue that his previous term was rightly so, founded in UDF, well, even if he dressed it in DPP blue paraphernalia for 4 years. As it were, Mutharikas case for a third term is already wrapped in the humble theme for his campaign and inaugural speech Let the work of my hands speak for me.

Worrying are reports of an impending Malawi Police Bill intended at restraining assemblies and demonstrations, which DPP denies duplicates one of Zimbabwes instruments of terror, brutalisation and dictatorship.

During its previous minority government, the DPP was sympathetic to anti-opposition demonstrations, which the police overlooked. Now, the demon is in the detail who is this Bill targeting and why now? Eyebrows need to be raised especially with growing comradeship between Mutharika and Zimbabwes Robert Mugabe.

Greed for wealth

Not wanting to drag itself into the fierce waters, UDF has been playing devils advocate in and outside parliament, possibly to buy amnesty for Muluzi at a time when the noose is tightening in his corruption case. Definitely, from the moment Muluzi found himself completely powerless, unable to accelerate his dream of deflating Mutharika, he quickly appeared from the woods of Kapoloma waving a white flag and has since, asked for reconciliation. But, the bristles of Mutharikas anti-corruption broom have just become finer that Muluzis properties are solidly under ACBs hammer. Any resemblance to UDFs successful crusade of impounding Kamuzus vast assets?

But as one Pentecostal pastor has lamented, all our presidents have shown a wicked greed to acquire questionable massive wealth. So, exit Mutharika, all his suspicious acquisitions from Lonrho, (ironically, formerly owned by Muluzi) to cottages in Portugal, will be pursued by the same ACB.

Malawians might have voted democratically in the May elections, but the countrys democracy is seriously under threat.

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