“MPs are like third division footballers,” once said Joe Ashton, a former Labour MP in the United Kingdom. “They get the same amount of money, the same amount of respect, are as well known locally and have the same life expectancy in the job…And when they finish, they can face the same kind of problems getting other work.”
“There’s no sympathy for an ex-MP,” adds Ashton. He was especially struck by the plight of some of the Tories defeated in 1997, when 160 lost their seats in the New Labour landslide. “One drank himself to death, two or three more suffered from alcohol problems and depression, another was so broke he had to take his kids out of school.”
The response to these problems was to form an association of ex-MPs, a support group that aims to help members once their 15 minutes of fame is over.
Here in Malawi, for the past few weeks, several opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) old guards have been ‘floored’ during primaries—a pointer to more casualties to follow.
Past figures show that at least 140 out of 193 men and women who were Members of Parliament (MPs) between 2009 and 2014 did not return to the August house.
According to 2014 parliamentary election results only 53 of the former MPs were re-elected into the house while more than 100 either lost during elections or did not even contest after being defeated during party primaries.
That is why, defeats of some Parliamentaries during primaries has not come as shock. The odds are against the current MPs to retain their seats.
Although some will chose to stand as independents or on another ticket, there is no guarantee they will retain their seats since the cloak that gives them the respect will have been taken away at primary elections.
So, for us on the streets, it has been a sense of relief that parties do not want those who have lost at primary level to go it alone. Parties want them to pave way for others. We on the streets agree with this policy.
Most MPs, especially the old guards, were not ready to reform. And we on the streets will not shed a tear for them, because over the years they were given mandate to serve Malawians, some have failed miserably.
Not so long ago, we on the streets tried in vain to educate them to serve the interests of the nation when they are in Parliament, but many opt to practice politics of the stomach. A good number of them do not want to be in Parliament anyway looking at the levels of absenteeism in the August House.
Some of them had the habit to abscond sittings despite pocketing allowances in advance. As a reminder, the MPs sitting allowance is paid at K10 000 (US$22) per day and subsistence allowance at K40 000 (US$89) daily. The MPs’ basic pay is at about K600 000 (US$1 333) a month. This is a lot of taxpayers’ money to waste on an individual who does not want to be attending discussions in Parliament.
Imagine, Parliament in some cases would meet with less than 35 MPs and when it comes to question time, sometimes only two questions are addressed because MPs and responsible Cabinet ministers are usually not present in the chamber.
The Speaker of the National Assembly Richard Msowoya has on several times met party leaders to plead with them to whip their legislators to attend discussions in a desperate push to curb embarrassing high levels of absenteeism with no success.
Msowoya should worry no more, the electorate will do the whipping for him by not voting for lazy MPs.
When it comes to passing of laws, the current crop has been rather disappointing. The lawmakers performance during the Electoral Reforms Bills left a majority of Malawians scratching their heads if ‘this is the kind of Parliament’ they want.
As some have put it in the past, there is nothing wrong with constituents deciding to change the people who represent them in Parliament. That is precisely the essence of elections and democracy. Voters must have the right to choose new representatives when incumbents disappoint them.
Time has come for Malawians to decide. There should be no sympathy for MPs.