Africa

OP-ED

Malawi’s lockdown election: Don’t let it be stolen, for Africa’s sake

Malawi’s lockdown election: Don’t let it be stolen, for Africa’s sake
Chikwera, Chilima and Muluzi: The 1st Malawi Presidential Debate, 29 March 2019. Photo: Greg Mills

We need a change in politics to place Malawi on the right path. First, however, we have to re-establish trust in the political system, which only a free and fair election can do.

Malawi’s 2019 election was declared a fraud by the highest court in the land in February this year. The judges said there were “widespread, systematic and grave” irregularities and declared the vote that supposedly returned President Arthur Peter Mutharika to power in May last year invalid.

The Constitutional Court found that less than one-third of the results from the more than 5,000 polling stations had been certified by the auditors by the time the head of the Malawi Electoral Commission declared Mutharika as the winner.

It’s little surprise that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) would want to steal the election. There is no way it could have won a free and fair contest, given its appalling development and governance record. 

Seven out of 10 Malawians live under the international poverty line of $1.90 a day.

We were once globally famous for our extraordinary tourism offerings around Lake Malawi. Today we are known as an exporter of human capital and a destination for charity. And we are known for corruption and the broken promises of government.

Because the courts rejected Mutharika’s appeal against the poll annulment, fresh elections will go ahead on 23 June. 

We have been granted an opportunity to reset our politics and thereby our economy. 

But there is a new threat. These elections will take place during the Covid-19 lockdown and election thieves look likely to try to steal the process again because they think the world is not watching. If they succeed, Malawi will remain in the bottom-five poorest countries in the world, where it has been since independence in July 1964.

We need a change in politics to place Malawi on the right path. First, however, we have to re-establish trust in the political system, which only a free and fair election can do.

Malawians need a break from bad leadership which produces poor governance and policy choices. Our politics have been hijacked for personal enrichment. This system has been run on expectations of economic entitlement and immunity from justice.

Malawi has become a country divided along the lines of privilege and ethnicity.

We aim to break this destructive political pattern. I have served in the church all my life, entering the ministry shortly after university. This tradition of service and of national unity is behind our Tonse Alliance – meaning all of us”. It is going to take all of us, standing together, to get rid of the people who have ruined Malawi.

The Malawi Congress Party and Vice President Dr Saulos Chilima have come together to show that this is not about personal ambition but about the national interest.

Our focus is on the fortunes of the youth, women and the downtrodden in development. Democracy is about making life better for all, not about dividing the spoils among the elite.

With the right set of policies, blessed with excellent conditions for agriculture and large expanses of underutilised arable land, Malawi could be a net exporter of high-value agriculture goods, along with cultivation of staples. It only needs to be given a chance.

Farmers are the backbone of our country. To kickstart the agricultural sector into realising its full potential we will support one million smallholder farmers with access to fertiliser.

We will focus on youth employment. Every piece of legislation will be measured against a simple test: Will it help or worsen the chances of young people getting jobs?

Female-headed households, mostly ignored by previous election manifestos, are more likely to be amongst the poorest and are disproportionately represented in the lowest quartile of income distribution. We are committed to providing access to capital to help them start their own businesses, to take charge of their destiny. 

We will work on getting the hardware right. We are not interested in giant vanity projects like new stadiums and high-speed railways lines but rather proper roofing for our citizens, reliable energy and working water. Only one in 10 Malawians currently enjoys access to electricity. 

Malawi is a country in a sorry state. It is a long way from realising its potential as the breadbasket of the region, the tourist magnet it was in the 1980s, and an exemplar of African development.

Arthur Peter Mutharika took over as president in 2014 based on the credentials of his late brother, Bingu wa Mutharika. 

President Mutharika II has no credentials to run Malawi, save his bloodline. And it shows. Under his leadership, the rate of poverty has increased because farmers have been neglected and there are few other opportunities for jobs and income. The government’s plans have not kept pace with population growth let alone dealing with the backlog of development.

Mutharika runs a country that is virtually devoid of foreign investment, since it is investor unfriendly, lacking the necessary infrastructure and awash with corruption. He heads a government without a plan, save one to ensure the interests of an elite whose job, in return, is to protect him from public opinion.

Malawians do not want him to continue as president. To his evident surprise, the emperor’s lack of clothing was pointed out by ordinary Malawians when they came out to vote in May last year.

Far from securing a sweeping victory, Mutharika had to resort to the tried and tested methods of African autocrats. Under the noses of election observers, his team fiddled, defrauded, miscounted, swindled and Tippexed him to a purported victory – only for the courts to find that he was, in the expression of Warren Buffet, found to be swimming naked, facing allegations of corruption and election rigging.

The message from this sorry affair is clear and powerful: Back ordinary Malawians. They know what they want. Give them half a chance, please.

Just a fortnight away from a historical second round of voting, as enforced by our courts, Malawians face a choice: Business as usual with an administration tainted by cronyism, corruption and incompetence, or a different path, led by a commitment to doing the right thing.

Another bet on the Mutharika government is a guarantee of perpetual dynastic poverty.

Malawi needs a government that can see the long game, put Malawians first, invest in infrastructure and economic resilience, not their own pockets. Such a government has to respect the courts and not view them as a speed bump on their route to power. It needs a government that is ready for hard work.

We aim to remove Malawi from the bottom-10 poorest countries in the next five years. This will require setting the country on a fresh path of prosperity. The alternative, the status quo, is too ghastly to contemplate.

Malawi’s election on 23 June will be the first coronavirus poll. The world needs to keep watch on our elections or the pandemic will be used as cover to weaken democracy. Please keep a close eye on our progress. Another stolen election will be bad for governance and business across Africa. DM

Lazarus Chakwera is the presidential candidate for the Tonse Alliance.

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