Saturday, October 3, 2015

Political parties’ undoing

When history seems to have judged small political parties as poor performers in national elections, it hits one as a surprise that the country’s so-called small political parties remain expert procrastinators. Instead of launching preparations long before the 2019 elections, they have the luxury of engaging the political hibernation gear.
Maybe I should first describe a ‘procrastinator’. According to American humourist Robert Benchley, a procrastinator is described as “anybody who can do any amount of work, so long as it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing”.  
This definition captures the behaviour of the country’s ‘developing’ [the term brief-case or small may sound cruel; too cruel for a democratic state such as ours] political parties very well. They only seem to wake up from their slumber when the Malawi Electoral Commission blows the official campaign whistle and, by which time, it is often too late to garner support and consolidate their position.
Of course, Malawi’s political sphere is too polarised. We all know, or have a faint idea, that, in The Warm Heart of Africa, it is one’s district and region of origin that matters in voting; it’s never about policies or fair judgement.
This notwithstanding, I expected the country’s ‘developing’ political parties to take full advantage of the period in-between elections to roll their drums by endearing themselves to the country’s citizens in a simple, cost-effective way.
Save for Umodzi Party president, John Chisi, who continues to remind Malawians that he is relevant to the country’s development by commenting on a number of issues in the media, the others seem to be on a kind of sabbatical that is not only detrimental to their political aspirations but also counter-productive.
Come to think of it, there are many ways of killing the political rat [meaning, defeating the ruling party; which, of course, is the ambition of every opposition political party, be it established, or ‘developing’] without breaking the bank. The most cost-effective way seems to be the strategic use [abuse?] of the media by commenting on a number of issues [including, as most politicians do, those one is not conversant with], and issuing statements [even on trivia issues] from time to time.
There is also the tried-and-tested practice of attending funerals, weddings, parking one’s car in the middle of a busy road, sweeping the streets, among others.
However, leaders of our ‘developing’ political parties seem to judge everything in terms of the likely costs to be incurred. And there lies the problem!
Of course, the politician’s lot in Malawi is a hard one. There simply are too many expectations pinned on the small shoulders of our politicians. To begin with, representative leaders such as members of Parliament and councillors are looked up to as what others have described as ‘transmission belts’; meaning, people whose principal role is to transmit the wishes of voters into policy action. The fault with this line of thinking is that it disregards the fact that these representative leaders have wishes of their own. Again, the ‘transmission belt’ line of thinking does not consider the fact that, once elected, these officials are given a role to execute their work through their agency, so long as they appreciate the fact that they do their work on trust. It, therefore, does not make sense for them to be seeking the consent of voters every time they need to take action on something.
Apart from shouldering this burden, our politicians also have to deal with dependent constituents who look up to them for everything, including the provision of carrier plastic bags for baby nappies! When someone dies in the ward or constituency, it is councillors and legislators who have to shoulder the burden of buying coffins, finding means of transport and feeding mourners.
So bad is the situation that the same councillors and legislators have to use money meant for development to pay people who take part in community development initiatives. Blame it on politics of hand-outs — that political game introduced and mastered by the once mighty United Democratic Front, perfected by the erstwhile ruling People’s Party, and adored by the Democratic Progressive Party. It seems as if there is no way out of this predicament.
But, if the truth be told, these are not good grounds for ‘developing’ political parties to shy away from politics in-between one national election and another. I know the leaders of the ‘developing’ political parties decide to watch events unfolding from the sidelines because they don’t want to dive into the politics of coffin-buying. They don’t have to.
All they need to do is [to] make their presence felt by, from time to time, saying something that will resonate with the wishes of the people. And, then, we will rid our nation of this vicious cycle of poor electoral performances, a game ‘developing’ political parties seem to have mastered without competitors.

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