He was second best to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, President Peter Mutharika, in the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections. This sealed his place as Leader of Opposition in Parliament.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera faces a daunting task to fill the boots left by John Tembo whom many revere as an enlightened and unyielding politician.
Chakwera’s job was cut out for him.
According to Parliamentary Standing Orders, the job description of the Leader of Opposition includes “presenting alternative policies to those of the government”.
Still feeling that he was robbed of victory three years after the cut-throat polls, Chakwera has to keep Mutharika’s administration in check.
Oftentimes, the ruling party and chiefs that defends its infamous policies still accuse the MCP leader of just criticising government and failing to offer solutions.
“He has never given solutions to problems Malawians are facing. As Leader of Opposition, he was supposed to be giving solutions and not just criticising government,” says Minister of Information and Communication Technology Nicholas Dausi who speaks for government.
Outspoken writer and social media activist Stanley Onjezani Kenani disputes this reasoning “one propaganda line” the ruling party has successfully sold Malawians.
He writes: “Does this mean we elected robots incapable of formulating solutions? If you tell me my weakness—say for example, ‘you drink too much, in the end, you might lose your job,’—do I need anyone to tell me that the solution is to stop drinking?” he writes on his Facebook page.
“In his most recent speech, for instance, Chakwera pointed out to the President: Sir, this is what you put in your manifesto but you are not doing what you promised Malawians you would do.”
Such is the stick Chakwera takes from his critics in power that some ministers recently pushed Parliament to delete parts of his speech in which he termed Mutharika “a prince of thieves” for doing too little to tackle entrenched corruption in the country.
But Happy Kayuni, a political analyst based at Chancellor College in Zomba, is convinced that Chakwera has performed above average in his difficult job often misrepresented and misunderstood.
He explained, “First of all, Chakwera has not done a reasonably good job in offering alternative policies. However, we should understand this in the context of a highly competitive political environment which creates a dilemma for all opposition leaders in a democracy.
“If the party in government is seen as failing, then it creates an opportunity for the opposition, hence, providing alternative policies will ultimately strengthen their rivals in government. Why should the party in government get this freely?”
But MCP deputy secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka believes his boss has lived to people’s expectations as leader of opposition.
“It is not true that Chakwera does not provide solutions in his speeches. If people listen to the speeches critically, there are solutions imbedded in them. If in his speech he is criticising corruption, he is insinuating that the Anti-Corruption Bureau [ACB] should be freed in order to pursue cases of corruption well,” he argues.
Concurring, Mzuzu-based political columnist Emily Mkamanga thinks Chakwera has done “a good job” so far.
“Chakwera has provided alternative policies to government. He knows how people are suffering in the country and he provides solutions to their problems in his speeches. One of them is telling government to fight corruption which is affecting Malawians when money meant for their welfare disappears,” she says.
But whether Chakwera is obliged to provide solutions to problems rocking the country, Kayuni argues that it goes back to the campaign promises the partiers make.
In the race to the top, every party has promises, an agenda or policies which it claims are the best for the country.
“So, should they get policies from a party which was deemed a failure [by the voters]? Can the party in government willingly accept to implement policies that are emanating from a party which they feel doesn’t have the legitimacy to run the country? These are the dilemmas that opposition leaders face, hence, they tend to focus more on what is wrong rather than what exactly needs to be done,” says the scholar.
The main dilemma of opposition leaders is whether the President and his inner circle can take their suggestions on board.
“Government sometimes chooses to ignore the solutions that Chakwera presents simply because he is from the opposition,” she explains.
Chakwera’s response to Mutharika’s speech marking the opening of the ongoing meeting of Parliament ignited heated debate over Chakwera’s relevance and contempt for the President.
The Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya ordered clerks to cross out parts of Chakwera’s Prince of Thieves speech from the Hansard.
Msowoya, who is Chakwera’s deputy in MCP, described the erased phrases as “disrespectful” to the President.
But Kayuni argues that the speech was an honest reminder for Mutharika not to lose focus when it comes to the on-off war on corruption.
“Chakwera did a good job to remind the President of the promises that his party made and the extent to which those promises are currently not being fulfilled. This in my view was a very good response and that is what the opposition is supposed to be doing,” says Kayuni.