Elections and government are institutions which enable political leaders to exercise authority in democratic regimes. The use of elections in modern democracies differs from the practice in ancient democracies such as Athens since political offices were filled using satiation or allotment by which office holders were chosen by lot.
There are a number of systems through which elections are carried out and also how governments operate. These include the majority system, the proportional representative system as well as the presidential, parliamentary, unitary and federal government.
Malawi adopted democratic politics in 1993 after three decades of autocratic rule. Although democracy was adopted in Malawi, the essence of democracy has been hindered by the perseverance of poverty, patronage, regional and ethnic politics.
Low literacy levels have affected the country’s democratic governance and governments have been characterised by corruption and poor policy implementation. The voter unconcern about the quality of governance has been explained by modernisation hypothesis: that low levels of education cause low income countries to have more poorly functioning democracies as education improves a country’s civic culture and citizen’s ability to make rational choices.
Clientele politics have also affected our country’s democracy as patrons have furnished excludable resources (money, jobs, food) to dependants to gain political support. Poor voters have been susceptible to clientele politics in Malawi.
Regionalism and ethnicity has been the hub of our country’s politics as witnessed in the voting pattern in almost all elections.
In the results of the 1993 referendum, 63 percent of the voters voted for the creation of a multiparty system (North and South) and 37 percent voted for a single-party state(Central Region).
The presidential and parliamentary elections which were held in 1994 replicated the results of the referendum. In the North, Chihana of Aford emerged as the winner with 88 percent of the votes. In the Central Region, the late Kamuzu Banda received 64.3 percent and in the South, Bakili Muluzi got 78 percent.
The 2004 election had a similar trend and Bingu wa Mutharika carried the day with 35 percent. The just-ended tripartite elections also had a similar fashion and the winner amassed 36 percent of the total votes. In the 2009 elections, Democratic Progressive Party won with a landslide but United Democratic Front did not field a candidate and the Central Region still massively voted for Malawi Congress Party.
—Call for a federal government in Malawi—
Democratic governance in Malawi has largely been influenced by clintelism, regionalism, ethnicity and poverty rather than rationality. As such, a federal system of government is the best alternative for Malawi.
Others have suggested changing the electoral system to 50 + 1, but this will not solve issues of regionalism, patronage and nepotism.
Others have also suggested introducing fiscal decentralisation, where local districts will be given power to source and manage their own finances, but this would still not last in the current unitary system because it can be removed by demagogues just the way the senate and the recall provision were amended.
In a federal Malawi, unity and diversity will be well coordinated than in the current unitary system. Regions in a federal Malawi will be given freedom to preserve their cultural identity and languages. Regions will also enjoy political and economic autonomy in their administration. On the other hand, if the unitary system is maintained in Malawi, our cultural and linguistic identities and economic aspirations will continue being affected leading to more cases of nepotism, ethnic politics and underdevelopment of the country.
Federalism has been found useful in large countries like India and the United States for administrative purposes, but also in Switzerland, a small landlocked country like Malawi with a population of not more than 12 million people. Switzerland’s religious, linguistic and cultural diversities made it necessary to have a federal system which has made unity possible.
Secondly, a federal Malawi will bring government nearer to the people and local problems will easily be solved by the local and regional governments. Councillors in the current form of decentralisation will not effectively perform their roles due to power centralisation.
While authoritarianism generally flourishes in unitary countries, federalism is more responsive since issues to do with abuse of power like adoption of an unpopular national flag, removal of the recall provision, the senate and abuse of State resources and State institutions will also be curbed. The amount of money to be swindled by the central government (Cashgate) will also be reduced since local government will have powers to correct their own taxes and there will be close supervision of the remaining funds by the governors and all authorities. If there is swindling of resources, it will be across the entire region not one section taking all the billions of taxpayers money into their pockets, hence distribution of wealth and resources and trickledown effect across the country.
In times of emergencies such as war, resources of all the regions will be pooled together and foreign threats will be more effectively faced. Even domestic troubles will easily get tackled.
Lastly, possibilities of revolution and military coup will be minimised because not one but many governments are to be overthrown if a sudden change is sought by means other than democratic elections. Thus, stability will be better ensured in federal system.
All in all, a call for a federal system of government is the way to go and all Malawians should look at it with a sober mind putting party and regional politics aside considering the fact that leadership in a democracy changes from time to time, hence the need to make objective and lasting policies. Malawians should give a blind eye to the proposers and look at the proposal which will surely lead to the attainment of the greatest happiness.