like was the case with his late brother in 2004, Peter Mutharika has this year risen on a minority 36 percent of the votes cast in the presidential election.
He is President of the Republic of Malawi thanks to the first-past-post system which Malawians wanted to change to a 50+1 system proposed through a National Constitutional Review of 2007 whose outcomes are gathering dust somewhere at the Capital Hill. Otherwise, the majority of the electorate denied him their vote.
But former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika, reversed his ballot misfortunes by championing policies that estranged him from UDF—the party which literally carried him on its shoulders to victory—and endeared him to the majority who had denied him their vote.
The more the opposition tried to throw spanners in the works of Bingu, the more the electorate embraced him, culminating in the overwhelming support he got in the 2009 presidential election. How power corrupted him and reversed the goodwill into a curse is a story for another day.
Suffice it to say that a lot was achieved during Bingu’s first term because he had the majority as well as the donors on his side. The economic growth of 7.5 percent on average was only possible because on the one hand donors wrote off our foreign debts and increased aid inflows and on the other, the majority of the people rallied behind their President.
The new President wants to build on the success of his brother by having the majority of the people on his side, growing the economy by 7.5 percent per year and having both the traditional Western donors and the emerging force of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) on the side of his government.
Peter also acknowledges, albeit tongue-in-cheek, the blunders which destroyed the otherwise beautiful legacy of his brother, turning him from the most loved to the most loathed political leader within the first two years of his second term.
One thing the new President has quickly ascribed to is the age-old saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. He, therefore, wants to be a President who wilfully reduced the use of his Executive prerogatives to meddle in the works of the watchdog institutions such as Anti-Corruption Bureau.
What an anti-thesis to the governance philosophy of his late brother who brooked no independence of any institution whose leadership he appointed, arguing it made no sense to deny the hiring authority the power to fire any appointee who did not toe the line!
But to achieve what he wants, President Mutharika has to first demolish the ‘Berlin Wall’ separating him from both the majority of the people and the sceptical donors. This requires astute and transformational leadership of the Mandela type. Mutharika has to be a pacifier.
The conspicuous absence of some opposition leaders, particularly MCP’s Lazarus Chakwera and PP’s Joyce Banda, at Mutharika’s inaugural ceremony attests to a rift deeper than is currently being acknowledged.
Whatever else may contribute to the difficult relations, there’s no denying that without sorting out the many irregularities, MEC was forced to declare a winner of the presidential race on a legal technicality. Even Mutharika would have felt short-changed had he not been the lucky winner.
That, coupled with the fact that the government side has secured only 50 out of 192 seats contested for, leaves Mutharika with two options: playing tough and spend much of his energy in a tug-of-war with an irate opposition or pro-actively engage them in a difficult dialogue leading to burying the hatchet so that the interest of de-politicising development bears fruit.
The second option is extremely difficult. The first option is easier but costly. It makes government vulnerable to blackmail from the independent MPs and other opportunistic hawks who shamelessly defect from their parties at a price.
Encouraging defections while engaging the opposition in a tit-for-tat game may have been the option for some of Mutharika’s predecessors but it creates unnecessary uncertainty in the economy for investors. Allowing for that would be too much of a luxury for a government which is also facing a very sceptical donor community.