In this entry, Mallick Mnela observes that there is diminished and compromised status among key political players in the country’s political discourse in relation to the presidential elections debacle. He opines that the courts and the army, as the most trusted agencies with Constitutional mandate, should, therefore, assume greater role to maintain peace, law and order before and after the court verdict.
As we enter the last couple of weeks before the Constitutional Court delivers its ruling, it is only prudent to keep searching for better ways of sustaining the country’s peace, law and order.
It would be folly to think that a determination on the controversial presidential elections will be without drama, or rather, will be characterized by less and less contention and political bickering.
We all already know that the court verdict will be delivered amid simmering tensions. The verdict, whichever way, will not make everyone happy.
All the while, it has been clear that mistrust was a key element leading to less activity towards cohesion among people of diverse political inclinations. For the most part since the elections, we have seen a situation where people and some institutions have been perceived to have embraced an outright pro-opposition position and others perceived to have towed an outright pro-incumbent line. There are some who have chosen neutrality, completely going stealth, deafening silence on the political discourse.
From the civil society sector, for example, we have seen the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) playing lead in fighting for what it calls electoral justice. This is noteworthy as it aims to demand some critical political rights as enshrined in the country’s constitution.
The HRDC has made it clear from the word go that: “… the May 21 elections were a sham and that Justice Jane Ansah, being the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, allegedly failed in her role and should thus resign or be removed”.
The position embraced by the HRDC obviously validates the position of the opposition parties MCP and UTM whose leaders – Lazarus Chakwera and Saulosi Chilima respectively – took the matter to court, challenging the victory of incumbent President and DPP leader Peter Mutharika.
Therefore, considering that the HRDC have a vested interest in advocating for an outcome that opposes another party to the electoral dispute, it effectively renders them a party to the dispute than a potential arbiter. This, therefore, implies that they are not a neutral party, notwithstanding the justification of their cause.
Other stakeholders involved in elections such as the Malawi Elections Support Network (MESN) have had little to say in the ongoing debacle. Immediately after the polls, they issued a report validating the controversial results. This pits the MESN against opposition political parties and interest groups such as the HRDC, thereby compromising their position as a possible arbitrator.
The same can be said of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC). The quasi-religious body has, from the era pre-dating the elections, been seen as pro-opposition. As a result, the governing DPP has seen the PAC as an opposing force as opposed to being seen as a neutral party.
Generally, the public has also lost confidence in the Malawi Police Service (MPS). Contrary to Section 158 of the Constitution requiring the police to be impartial, there is a general outcry that they breach this constitutional mandate with impunity and, as a result, not even the Inspector General of Police feels safe.
Section 158 reads: “Members of the Malawi Police Service shall ensure that they exercise their functions, powers and duties as impartial servants of the general public and the Government of the day.” Perhaps the government of the day is interpreted as the governing party, thus the confusion?
On playing a role to bring bickering parties together, even the former presidents of the country are not parties to look up to: Bakili Muluzi is seen as being sympathetic to the DPP while Joyce Banda is believed to be pro-opposition, especially the MCP. Because of their partisanship, they may not be appropriate parties to initiate a process to heal the country.
Despite the clear divisions and growing divisions on party lines in the country’s politics, there are some non-political institutions that remain immune to political bias.
The Judiciary and the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) are institutions that have so far demonstrated an ability to unite all as inspired by the country’s constitution. We have seen parties from across the political divide approaching the courts with a sense of trust, thanks to the sense of camaraderie offered by the two!
Where others wanted to cut corners and have things their way, we have seen the judiciary officials rise above mediocrity to come clean as illustrated in the controversial bribery incident that has since been reported to the ACB. That notwithstanding, the judiciary still seems determined to adjudicate the matter fairly and public trust remains.
Where the police have been seen as compromised and only acting in the interest of the political incumbents, thus failing in their constitutional duty, MDF soldiers under the tutelage of General Vincent Nundwe (despite being subordinates of President Peter Mutharika as Commander-in-Chief) have take charge of security and earned the respect of all parties.
The impartiality of the MDF and the judiciary is certainly guaranteed. Their role would not be to solve the political problems prompting the violence; but to stop the violence and create a conducive environment for constitutional order.
It therefore goes without saying that these two institutions should be well resourced to ensure that they work effectively in safeguarding the country’s peace.
Everyone should enjoy the right to participate in matters of governance – DPP, MCP, UTM, UDF or whatever party or political orientation. But in the midst of infallibility, as is the case now, the very notion of a democracy comes under serious threat.
Lucky for us, there is still trust in the army and the courts.
Therefore, the army and the judiciary may be Malawi’s only hope. Perhaps it would not be asking for too much for the army and judiciary to talk tough to key political stakeholders, reiterating their mandates and spelling out their expectations to ensure that political infallibility does not stand in the way of the country’s peace.
After all, in the event of more chaos in the aftermath of the court verdict, the expectation is that a surge in lawlessness will keep the army and the judiciary busier, distracting them from more important assignments.
At this juncture, we also expect members of the academia to come out and help save the country from deepening crisis. I have in mind Mzuzu University’s Department of Governance, Peace and Security Studies (DGPSS). It’s high time experts from Mzuni demonstrated thought leadership at a time the country’s peace is in jeopardy, mistrust is high and conflict nigh.
The valid concerns on alleged poor governance, exclusionary politics, ethnic tensions and theft of public resources are being drowned in cries of violent attacks and counter-attacks. Partisan interests and egos have allowed violence to thrive. As a result, although some of the issues that have been cited as reason for protests are legitimate, they almost always got watered down by the isolated incidents of violence.
It is an open secret that political actors on whichever side of the political spectrum have exploited the violent behavior of their subjects for their interests. This is why the army, pursuant to Section 160 of the Constitution, and the Courts, in line with Section 9 of the Constitution, should unleash their clout and capacity to frustrate any violent activity, by whosoever dares.
In the aftermath of the court verdict, institutions that lost credibility as a result of overzealousness, incompetence or unwittingly have an opportunity to turn the tide. But in navigating through the waters, embracing neutrality – whenever possible – is the secret. The courts and the army have demonstrated its possible to be a neither friend nor foe, but a mere duty bearer. Is it possible?