Saturday, September 12, 2015

Gauging the gelling powers of blue

Political harmony is a very tricky thing and only the rare ‘hostess’ can successfully carry it off.
But, from the look of things, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) seems to be wearing the tag of hostess well, despite facing the tricky situation of smothering the egos of political parties who profess advancing different ideologies.
Political Scientists Association of Malawi secretary general, Ernest Thindwa, observed that, in the first place, Malawians should realise that achieving political harmony in the Malawian context is not as simple as it sounds. More so when, in the case of Malawi, party ideologies are similar-sounding at best and non-existent at worst.
“In the first place, our political parties seem not to follow a specific set of ideologies. This emanates from our political culture- a culture that has contributed to the weakening of democratic institutions,” said Thindwa.
However, Thindwa noted that the political parties can still work together by focusing on national interest issues, and not necessarily their ideologies.
And, in tandem with his observation, we have seen the DPP work with United Democratic Front (UDF) president and May 20 tripartite elections presidential candidate, Atupele Muluzi, even though the Limbe-headquartered UDF maintains that it has no formal working relationship with the ruling party. Muluzi is the Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining in President Peter Mutharika’s administration.
While a working relationship between the DPP and a top UDF official was something unheard of before the tripartite elections, due to different ideologies and political motivations, some analysts said that party ideologies were the last thing that could stand in the way of political harmony.
For example, political and social commentator based at The Polytechnic, Simbarashe Mungoshi, said almost all the political parties in Malawi are united by one thing: Elitist ideologies, owing to the way they negotiate their way to the pinnacle of power.
“In the first place, let me dispel the notion that our political parties have no ideologies. A proper analysis reveals that party leaders subscribe to elitist ideologies because they rise through the ranks (of their political parties) through their financial muscle, political acumen or education background,” said Mungoshi, adding:
“That is why it is so easy to say that such a political party belongs to so-so. Almost all the political parties have members of the elite who own them.”

Shifting the goals?
While it is too early to say, with certainty, how the DPP administration plans to toy around with other political parties in its bid to create cosmetic or real working relationships with other parties, social commentator Edward Chaka said, so far, the current administration has shown willingness to set its differences with other parties aside and promote national development.
Chaka, who is the executive director for the People’s Federation for National Peace and Development, said by not antagonising other political parties, the President could be sending the message that he is ready to work with all Malawians.
“We are yet to see the acrimony that has characterised Malawi politics since (the re-advent of multiparty politics in) 1994. Peace, which is a prerequisite for national development, can only come in an environment where national interests take precedence, and that is what we have seen, so far,” said Chaka.
And, so far, Malawians have seen a Malawi Congress Party (MCP) that was nothing but combative after the declaration of the elections’ results 100 days ago ‘eat’ the mellow meal of ‘political sanity’.
For instance, MCP publicity secretary Jessie Kabwila has toned down a bit- hushing her sentiments that the DPP rigged the May elections to conceding that the MCP could have lost because “We did not feature members of Parliament in some constituencies”, especially in the Southern Region.
Just recently, she was seen disembarking from a presidential chartered plane at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe. Mutharika had just relinquished his position as Southern African Development Community chairperson to Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, in August and ‘happened’ to have invited Kabwila to Zimbabwe.
The sight of Kabwila disembarking from a presidential plane raised eyebrows among some people, but Kabwila was quick to say her trip would not hush the MCP into praise singing.
“We will continue to play our role of providing checks and balances,” said Kabwila.
On his part, Mutharika was uncharacteristically appreciative.
“I am happy that when we invited her, she accepted our invitation. We are one party, and our interest is to develop the nation,” said Mutharika at the post-trip press briefing.
What this means, therefore, is that the DPP has set out to work with other political parties, where need be.
This can best be summed up in the President’s words, thus: “Campaign (time) is over”.

Mixed signals  
So, while chastening the opposition has traditionally been considered a ‘privilege’ of the ruling elite, the DPP administration seems to have other ideas other than keeping the opposition on its toes all the time.
And, while opposing has emerged as a tool for survival in the opposition jungles, the slight change has been observed by other political parties. For example, Umodzi Party president John Chisi said the intensity of opposition has slackened somewhat in the 100 days.
“This notwithstanding, we still have problems. For example, the ruling DPP has not incorporated some of the ideas that were part of other political parties’ manifestos in the run up to the elections. I thought the DPP would have incorporated them,” said Chisi.
Chisi cites the issue of ploughing more resources into agriculture than other sectors as a dark spot.
“All the previous budgets allocated more resources to agriculture than areas such as health and industrialisation and this hasn’t helped. The current administration should have prioritised industrialisation,” said Chisi.
This, he said, pointed to the fact that 100 days were not a “significant litmus test” for us to gauge if the DPP is prepared to “work with others for the long haul”.
And the “long haul”, in Malawi’s political and legal speak, is five years.  

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