On 20th May 2014 the people of the Republic of Malawi went to the polls to in the first tripartite elections the country has held. In contrast to the South African election there have been reports of chaos and failure of democracy in Malawi. The political intrigue is fascinating and as I have said before akin to the drama of House of Cards. Never the less I would like to argue that the 2014 Malawian election could potentially do more for African democracy than any election in the post colonial era.
Malawi is maturing as a democracy that cannot be doubted. There may be elements of subterfuge and at least political maneuvering by ultimately the rule of law and the Constitution has been protected by the High Court. In the past week Malawi has exemplified a model of restraint. Even in the midst of Joyce Banda trying to illegally nullify the election the courts stood firm and insisted that the MEC continued with the vote count in accordance with the Constitution. Thanks to the intervention of the High Court it now seems likely that a victor will emerge as the new President of Malawi. This is likely to be the nemesis of Mrs Banda, Peter Mutharika. The electoral process to my mind has shown real signs of political maturity. There have been many, far too many hiccups, by ultimately the Constitution is being upheld and it has emerged that Separation of Powers genuinely exists in Malawi. The High Court has acted independently from the Executive and has remained staunchly committed to upholding the Constitution rather than bowing to illegal proclamations from the incumbent.
There have been claims that Mutharika’s DPP party has rigged the election in his favour. Such reports are seemingly spurious. Firstly, one must question how it would be possible for an opposition party to fix an election against an incumbent and furthermore one recognizes that all the facts point towards a Mutharika victory. The PVT indicates that the MEC count is accurate and the results being declared are very much in line with the pre-election forecasts from Afrobarometer. Opinion polls are often maligned in African elections and often justifiably so. A culture of accurate psephology is only just beginning to emerge and the advanced scientific methodology of Afrobarometer has taken many in the region by surprise. Social Scientists now have the means, it seems, to predict election results based upon their surveys. Perhaps a new political landscape will emerge across the continent and in future psephologists will be more widely utilized by candidates in African elections. Perhaps in this respect Malawi 2014 will be heralded as a new dawn in African politics? It can only be good for democracy!
The role of the military and in particular the army should also be celebrated. The military have been deployed on the streets of urban centres frequently over the past week but have acted with great restraint and professionalism. In less developed democracies the military may have stepped into the perceived power vacuum in order to rule for the “common good” or to impose its favoured candidate on a nation. This has not happened in Malawi and again I argue that this is a sign of a country that is maturing as a democracy.
During the electoral process information has been freely available and local and international media have been able, it seems to me, to report without restrictions. I have read many differing political perspectives on the election process – in support of each of the candidates – this is refreshing. Of course media outlets and people using social networks have their own views and opinions but by and large the information emerging from Malawi has been balanced. There have been enough sources emerging to allow an observer to make judgments on the changing politic scene in the country. A free and fair media should not be taken for granted.
I started my article with reference to South Africa – a country that saw an election take place with little fuss and very few logistical difficulties. Results were published quickly and the process took place very smoothly culminating with the much-vaulted inauguration of Jacob Zuma. Some might say Malawi’s election exemplified the very opposite to South Africa and criticize the country for that fact. What with long queues, polling running into a second day, counting systems failing and results taking days to be declared amid claims of rigging and malpractice. I can’t disagree that the logistics of the election of been shambolic at times but I am compelled to celebrate the positives. Four candidates entered the electoral fray with some chance of being elected President in Malawi whereas in South Africa it was a foregone conclusion that the party of Government would be re-elected overwhelmingly. Malawi is potentially developing into a multi party democracy! In South Africa only the ANC can win. Similarly in Botswana, another country celebrated in the west as a model of African democracy, only the BDP ever win! Even in the USA it’s either Republicans or Democrats (with nothing to chose between them ideologically!) or the UK Labour or Conservative in the UK!
There is so much opportunity that can arise for Malawi as the new President takes over office. The country is demonstrating enhanced political maturity, Separation of Powers is a reality, the Constitution has been respected and despite a protracted process it seems the will of the people will be adhered to. Structurally things are sound. Much now depends upon those coming into government. A genuinely hung Parliament holding the Executive to account is crucial. Some may dismiss me as naïve or overly optimistic but if the incoming President can work with Parliament and not adopt the “Big Man” posture then hope is in the air. Similarly it’s essential that newly elected MPs do not seek to cross the floor in order to enhance their careers. A new era of consensus politics could see Malawi as a beacon of African democracy.