With the May 21 Tripartite Elections looming large, there is fear that most members of Parliament (MPs) may not retain their seats, which analysts say affects the performance of the august House, Nation on Sunday can report.
The observed trend since the first democracy election in 1994 shows that Parliament has a low retention rate.
Analysts say changing MPs in every election affects the institutional memory of the august House necessary for the oversight function of the National Assembly.
The assumption that most MPs are unlikely to return makes sense looking at the trend of retention.
Figures sourced from Parliament show that out of 193 MPs in 1999, only 61 retained their seats. The numbers kept dropping to 49 in 2004 and 47 in 2009. The last election saw only 46 legislators returning to the august House.
According to former speaker of the National Assembly and author of a book focusing on Malawi Parliament, Henry Chimunthu Banda, the low turnout maybe an indication of democracy at work, but the performance of the House is affected due to loss of institutional memory.
He argues that it takes time to train a new MP to familiarise themselves with practices and traditions of the House, meaning that half of the term is more or less for orientation or learning.
“Those that are retained have an advantage over new MPs who have to undergo a lot of training. But, again, we are assigning these MPs to various institutions locally and abroad and it becomes an advantage to repeating parliamentarians because they have a better understanding and are likely to perform better,” he said.
Speaking from experience, Chimunthu Banda said Parliament is a House of procedures which deals with technical matters requiring familiarity.
Long-serving parliamentarian Uladi Mussa agreed with Chimunthu Banda that repeating MPs have performed better in the House.
are few new ones who perform better. If it comes to contribution in the House,
mostly it is old-timers who lead. The same applies to contributions to bills.
is up to voters to decide, personally I wished we had more MPs coming back,” he said.
Why there is low turnout?
In a telephone interview, political scientist Nandini Patel attributed the low turnout to voters’ frustration with a candidate’s failure to implement the exaggerated promises during campaign.
She also blamed constituents, saying they may not have a complete understanding of the role of an MP, hence they end up misjudging them. Patel said some MPs do a great job in committees and legislative processes of the House, but this does not count much to a voter who has wrong understanding of the role of an MP.
So far, only two parliamentarians—Uladi Mussa, representing Salima South and Abubaker M’baya of Mangochi East—have been in Parliament since 1994. Mussa has retained his seat under three different party tickets—UDF, Maravi Peoples Party (MPP) and PP while M’baya has been UDF throughout.
The cases of Mussa and M’baya are interesting. Mussa is quite an outspoken character in the National Assembly while M’baya is usually a missing voice in the House.
“In terms of strategy, the two have a
better understanding of the things that locals in their constituencies need. By
addressing people’s needs, they earn the respect of constituents. They are
viewed as benefactors by their constituents. While certain gestures, such as
buying coffins are beyond
do, in the eyes of the locals, carries more weight,” explained Blantyre–based political and social commentator Martin Chiphwanya. what an MP is supposed to
According to Chiphwanya religion could be another factor that has enabled Mussa and M’baya to easily retain their seats.
“A religious connection cannot entirely be ruled out. Being staunch Muslims in constituencies with a good Muslim population, the two may most likely benefit from the vote of fellow Muslim believers as a show of oneness and solidarity” he observed.
Nice Trust executive director Ollen Mwalubunju also thinks the voter needs to be empowered to fully understand the role of an MP at the same time aspiring candidates should desist from promising the moon.
“I think most MPs are not voted back because they are seen to have failed even when they are doing right because in the mind of the voter an MP has to buy coffins, pay school fees and other stuff unrelated to their job. This is where we need civic education,” he said.
While poor retention is widely spread, constituencies in cities are even worse. With the exception of Blantyre Malabada, which has maintained the MP since 2004, they rarely maintain an MP for more than a term.
Constituencies which have changed MPs every election include Mzuzu City, Zomba City, Blantyre City South East, Blantyre City Central, Blantyre City South, Lilongwe City Centre, Lilongwe City West, Lilongwe City South West, Lilongwe City South East and Mzimba Solola.
Asked why city constituencies and those located within district headquarters are likely to change MPs compared to rural ones, both Chiphwanya and Patel attributed it to constituents’ level of knowledge and competition among candidates.
In his book, Malawi Parliament: Origins, Reforms and Practices, Chimunthu Banda acknowledges the challenge facing MPs in urban areas due to what he terms ‘the spirit of trying something new’ thus constituents change representatives in every election.
Random interviews with residents in Mzuzu City, Mzimba Solola and the capital Lilongwe revealed mixed feelings on why they often changed MPs. Most of them cited poor performance as reason for ‘recalling’ MPs.
Said a Mzuzu-based voter who has participated in the last three elections: “I do not feel the presence of the MP here in the city, hence I keep voting for new faces hoping there will be some change, but so far I have not seen any change hence I avoid voting for the incumbent.”