Written by RAPHAEL TENTHANI
James Carville, one of Bill Clinton's top strategists ahead of the Democrat's successful 1992 campaign against George H. W. Bush, coined the catchy phrase: 'It's the economy, stupid!' This was the time when the US economy was smarting from a recession so much that voters inevitably were looking for someone with a better recovery plan.
Bush Snr. was riding high in the polls then with the March 1991 ground troops' invasion in Iraq giving him over 90 per cent in approval ratings. But with the economy teetering on the blink Carville's campaign motto easily enamoured the public to Clinton against his Republican opponent.
The world is again in a recession with many a European economy imploding and the US itself feeling the pinch. A developing country like Malawi may not escape the effects of this recession because its economy relies on the same struggling Western donors for up to 40 per cent of its budget.
Malawi is currently in an election mood with about 20 months to the actual polling date. Our motley crew of political parties are a mish-mash of ideologies and one wonders if they have any discernible ideology at all. During the early days of the re-introduction of multiparty democracy in Malawi in 1993, the MCP was clearly Conservative; Aford came off as Social Democrats while the UDF aligned itself to Liberal Democrats.
But, while leaders fashioned their parties along these loose political ideologies, members hardly cared. You see many an MCP member leaving the party for the UDF without any qualms.
That is why I found one Chakufwa Chihana's characterisation of political parties in Malawi rather apt. When the fire-brand former trade unionist burst on the scene after the dare-devil Catholic bishops belled the cat, as it were, in 1992 he described the MCP as a party of "death and darkness" owing to the oldest political party's documented 30-year history. He had no nicer characterisation for the UDF calling them "a party of thieves" at different times.
I am not sure what Chakufwa's take will be at the current crop of parties, especially the one in power now.
President Joyce Banda's Peoples Party leads the way tomorrow by holding an exhaustive national convention ahead of the 2014 elections. What will be her rallying call? Of course the economy, education, safe motherhood and all the usual suspects will be there.
But I would argue 'It's the image, stupid!' to be the centre of her campaign. I will come back to this a little later.
The very idea of holding the convention is quite a feat for Malawi's freak ruling party because it will go down in history as the first party to hold a meaningful convention since 1994.
This is how I mean: at the height of the MCP bitter power struggle after the death of its founder Hastings Kamuzu Banda various attempts were made to find a legitimate leader of the former ruling party between two bitter foes, Gwanda Chakuamba and John Tembo. After a number of tries the two political gladiators ended up holding two parallel conventions that elected both of them to lead the party. Gwanda served the situation by quitting the MCP to found his own Republican Party.
The UDF too has had attempt at holding conventions but there were all sham since they were just meant to endorse the already anointed leadership.
As for the DPP, this is a good example of a party that knew how to massacre two key words in its name: Democratic and Progressive. The late President Bingu wa Mutharika used to just wake up one day and say: 'So-and-so-you're-this-and-that'. And that is neither democratic nor progressive. To give the blue camp the benefit of the doubt there seems to be serious moves to hold a meaningful convention later in the year. But, as they say, the truth in the pudding is in the eating.
So with the PP having an all-inclusive national convention I think congratulations are in order from the muckraking community.
But a word of caution though: conventions are not the be-all end-all. Like the DPP before it, PP went into government by sheer default. Bingu sold the UDF a dummy and eloped with the government while fate did it for PP. Be that as it may both parties' status as 'ruling parties' cannot be diluted.
Now let us come back to the title of this narrative. The other day Abiti intimated that she is particular with the image of her party. The convention should therefore be the starting point in the campaign to purify that image. Which is why I think the party should have given itself more time to scrutinise and sanitise names of people vying for which posts.
Some may argue that in a democracy everybody has the right to participate in any political activity. Damn right but a political party, like any other club, must have rules, regulations and etiquette. The PP should have announced a period of, say, two weeks during which aspirants would collect the nomination forms and fill them. I am not sure how the PP Nomination Form looks like but I guess there should be a part where one is supposed to state why one thinks one is fit for such a task.
After collecting the forms the DPP politburo should have then sat down to peruse through the forms. If some aspirants could be found wanting the party - as a club of the willing with a set modus operandi - should have the power to reject them.
Otherwise electing people to positions willy-nilly will not move the country forward. It will just be the same people who gave the MCP, the UDF and the DPP a bad name controlling things.
The PP leadership should also be prepared to handle the fall-out from the convention. I know some delegates are travelling to the convention with a sense of entitlement. They will argue that they stuck by Joyce Banda when she was down on her luck. They suffered with her when she was being victimised by the DPP. Surely such people have a legitimate expectation to be rewarded somehow.
So this section of people would not receive kindly the idea of having johnny-come-latelies grab plum positions in the party at their expense.
These people must be told that in a democracy majority rules and that politics is a service, not a career. If they truly love the party they must accept the status quo and work with the elected officials.
That said, this is a good start for PP despite the inevitable imperfections. Things may not go as smoothly as the party would have wished but it is a good start any way.
©2012 The Maravi Post