With Parliament set to open on June 21 2019, political parties in and outside Parliament now have their sights trained on the election of the Speaker and his or her two deputies. Given the roles and responsibilities of the Speaker, there is something disturbing about the inordinate amount of interest for political parties in the House to elect a Speaker from their camp. This is because the Speaker is supposed to be neutral and discharge his or her duties without considering anyone’s political affiliation.
But looking at what is going on now, there is so much campaigning for who should be Speaker. This is evidenced by how busy the two main political parties in Parliament—DPP and MCP—have been trying to swell their numbers especially from the independent MPs.
The strong desire to have a Speaker from your own political party confirms two things. The first is that political parties don’t trust each other. The second is that there are benefits that political parties expect to reap from electing someone from their camp. This is where we get it wrong as a country. It is true that campaigning is a democratic right for anyone vying for an elective office. The problem, however, is that when politicians put party affiliation above merit, they risk turning the office of the Speaker into a poisoned chalice. It is also the reason when then ruling party does not have a majority of members in the House, it finds passing bills and other transactions becomes difficult.
Granted, it would be expecting too much to think that MPs will not vote as blocs in the House when electing a Speaker. But one would expect MPs to be able to also look outside their own camp if what they want is merit. DPP and MCP should be able to look outside their camps and choose an independent MP as Speaker. MCP should be able to support a DPP candidate so long he or she is qualified to serve in that capacity. Similarly DPP should be happy to nominate an MCP candidate for the office of the Speaker if he or she has what it takes to serve in that capacity.
At this point I am tempted to mention a few former Speakers who left a legacy worth treasuring. I leave out Nelson Khonje and Malani Lungu who served as Speaker when I was too young. But four people distinctly stand out from the rest as having demonstrated how a Speaker should run the affairs of the National Assembly. These are Louis Chimango, Rodwell Mnyenyembe, Henry Chimunthu Banda and the immediate past Speaker Richard Msowoya. The rest were too drunk with power and forgot what they were supposed to do in that office.
This hullabaloo about who is elected Speaker reminds me of the mwanayu ngwanga syndrome (we put him in that position, so we don’t expect him to hurt us). For starters, this was the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) veteran politician and long-time serving president of the party, John Tembo when Mr Louis Chimango was Speaker. Parliament was pitched to decide what to deliberate first between the national budget and Section 65.
That statement spoke volumes about what Tembo and MCP expected from Mr Chimango as head of one arm of government—the Legislature. He would not create problems for the kingmaker. He would grant MCP their desire. This was and is a wrong expectation of the office of the Speaker.
The problem seems to originate from the deliberative role of Parliament as well as its oversight of the Executive. The two seem to trample on the powers of the Executive—usually dominated by people from the governing party. As we have come to know them, given their way, the Executive would always want to control and manipulate all other branches of government. This is wrong. As the House elects a Speaker this coming week, let merit and levelheadedness, not benefits and self-enrichment be the guiding principles.