An Outsider Inside View: Is Multiparty Democracy?
Malawi is a small country that has its share of as many registered political parties which exceed 40.This is in the name of multiparty democracy, but is multiparty really democracy? There has already been out cries on the confusion that the so many parties are causing the common man. It is important as well that we define what Malawian Democracy, this is another thing that is confusing since the advent of change. Unless we describe what type of democracy Malawi is there will continually be political problems.
The most notable democracies that developing countries try to emulate are that of the USA and UK. A look at the systems in these two countries would tell one that they are different. The USA follows a presidential system which has its own formula to balance up powers or populations in the different states. The UK has a parliamentary system where the party with the most elected members of parliament forms the government. In the UK, you have also overall supremacy from the monarchy with the queen as head of state. In these two countries mentioned there are differences on the term of office for the head of government and ironically they have fewer political parties at most less than ten. Now which between the two system can most ably describe the one adopted by Malawi? Of course most learned people could quickly say it’s the USA presidential system that we have. This answer may raise yet other questions because if you compare the two system of these two countries, you will find a lot of differences than similarities.
Another aspect that the Malawian political scientists should address is to define what type of democracy our nation has embraced. Should we say we are pro USA (more capitalist) or more British (Mixed) or perhaps socialists? Without stringent definition of what we are then we will not progress in the long term as currently we are neither of the two mentioned above. An ideal situation is to find our own suitable system by again employing ancient practices in combining our various traditional kingdoms cultures that make up the Malawi nation. If we look at the countries that are now developing at higher speed, it is those that have developed a modern model of their own democracies. Examples are countries like India and China. In this context, the way we elect presidents, their terms as to number of years in office and how the parliamentarians are ushered in as well needs to be revisited. In Zimbabwe, perhaps not a popular example this time around, some of the MPs are nominated by the president himself. This may be arguably to balance up the power of the ruling side if there are short falls. Another way is letting people vote for MPs only and the party with majority number of seats to then automatically assume the state presidency. These are amongst the issues worth pondering as they could perhaps solve problems currently being experienced in the Malawian parliament and political sphere in general. When Kamuzu was grabbing companies and estates of those who were seeing to be financially doing well could it have been the system of socialism? Our scientists should tell us.
Going by recent happenings in the country multiparty is perhaps not democracy. The first head of state in independent Malawi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda believed during his rule that Malawi was a democratic country. He was right because according to the dictionary definition of democracy, it is a system of government by the people, for the people. In other words it is a system of government whose choice is made by the majority. Malawians chose Dr Banda as life president; they agreed to form groupings, called youth leaguers and young pioneers to safeguard dissent or any form of opposing political views. Therefore no any other parties existed and by deduction there was no multipartism although democracy was there. It is no wonder that before introduction of the current system of democracy Kamuzu used to say multiparty is war, “matipate ndi nkondo.’
In 1993 people in Malawi voted to have a multiparty system because after 30 years they saw the dangers that one party presented. The referendum that was there was to usher in multipartism and not democracy as this was already there according to the ruling party then and that’s why perhaps Dr. Banda allowed people to vote on this important decision. I will not go into details as the rest is now well documented as to how a multiparty government came into being in 1994. The question that still lingers in my mind is the association of the two; multiparty and democracy. It is argued that multiparty breed’s democracy. This may be true but after 1994 we have all seen with our eyes and would we say with multipartism, Malawi is now more democratic. Some people have said the president must be ushered in with more than 50% of the votes; perhaps this could be democratic as it will be the wish of the majority.
More often, I have read comments by our university political scientists / analysts. They are normally consulted on political issues by newspaper writers particularly when there are disputes inside and outside the most prominent parties in the country. Their answers have most times left me wondering why reporters/writers rush to them for opinions. They give out comments which to me could as well come from anyone in the streets or in our villages. These are the people who should be telling us what they feel an ideal system of government would be in the Malawian context. They could do well if they researched on different cultures that make up our country, study how Chiefs were/ do settle power disputes and give constructive ideas as to how this great nation should be governed using some of the principles. If well researched with the Malawi culture in mind all these disputes we are seen between parties would be easy to solve using traditional methods. But looking at the comments by these so called political analysts or scientists, they fuel disputes rather than putting forward concrete suggestions of solving them. Political science students at Chancellor College can be well learnt if they were encouraged to do more research on the dynamics in our own country and what the effects are on the systems in government.
In most of my writings both academic and features, I like highlighting culture and its traits as a way of modernization. Modernization is the employment of local indigenous ways of doing things in combination with western ways. With this in mind my observation is that in Malawi respect of individuals is paramount in the cultural context. It is therefore no wonder that leaders of the various political parties feel proud to be addressed with respect. For the late Dr Bingu Wa Muthalika, the respectful salute would have been Adala, Dr Bakili Muluzi likes to be addressed as Agama and JZU_John Tembo as Obaba-a-Tembo.
Mama Joyce Banda is quiet befitting for the current president. Taking this into account is it therefore not a mockery how our parliamentarians address each other in parliament. May I suggest that perhaps the wording opposition party “otsutsa boma” be dropped in our language as it is not respectful. It may be the cause of trouble in parliament where any ideas brought by the ruling party whether good is opposed. A more fitting reference to parties that are not ruling now would be, “Alternative party or party in waiting” in Chichewa it could be ‘chipani chodikilira kuzalowa m`boma’ in short “ chipani chodiki”. Give these references to the MCP, UDF, AFORD, PPM and other parties on the other side of the DPP and you will see appointments being confirmed speedily, budgets passed objectively. For why should a party waiting to be the next in government be frustrating government agenda, it is only when you call them opposition, “otsutsa boma” that they will oppose anything even their own given names. Political scientists should have been the ones to research on things like these. In other countries the opposition is called the minority or the left wing or referred by their ideologies for example the conservatives. All this is to ensure that multiparty translates into democracy. The Peoples Party in answering a question as to whether they are in government or not with the fact their leader being the vice president alluded to this sentiment of being a party in waiting to form the next government.
Some of the ideas above if well researched and adopted could make Malawi a greater nation with multiparty politics translating into democracy. Let everyone, newspaper writers, television, radio personalities refer to the UDF, MCP etc as Alternative Party or Party in Waiting, “Chipani Chodiki” and surely all this opposition of wisdom to the advancement of our great nation will end. Perhaps we would be able to then export our system of multiparty democracy to other African countries struggling with similar problems of identity. Our political scientists should earn their money helping to build systems that will work not only in our generation but for generations to come. This is what universities are all about assisting building nations not destroying them.