This week’s events in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) show that all is not well in the former ruling party. Most people got to know of the squabbles in the party when the party’s secretary general (SG) Grezelder Jeffrey went public and emphatically stated that the party’s leader Peter Mutharika has done his part and it was now time to call for an elective convention to elect a new leader.
This was not all. As Jeffrey was issuing her edict on Mutharika, another senior party leader Ben Phiri must have been fuming with rage still for reasons we do not know. But the result of that anger was an epistle he sent to the SG announcing his resignation as the party’s director of elections. Among the reasons for his resignation was that he thinks he lost the mandate to continue to hold the position after the party lost the June 23 court-sanctioned presidential election. That is likely the good reason but not the real reason for his resignation.
Mutharika’s swift response to Jeffrey’s indictment on him was to crack the whip on her. He fired her. Suffice to say that her dismissal as SG was swiftly followed by a call from the party’s administrative secretary Francis Mphepo to inform her that she should not attend a scheduled Thursday’s national governing council (NEC) meeting to be held at Mutharika’s residence in Mangochi.
Jeffrey defied both the verbal dismissal and order not to attend the meeting. She would not resign because she was constitutionally assigned in that position by the party at an elective convention. Again a defiant Jeffrey hit back at Mphepo on the order to stay away from the NEC meeting on Thursday. Jeffrey said she would attend the meeting challenging that if the organisers want to bar her from the NEC meeting, let them send her back at the gate. As we went to press, it was not known if Jeffrey had indeed travelled to Mangochi or not.
The ruckus in the leading opposition party does not sit well with the need for a vibrant democracy in the country. This hurly-burly in the DPP shows things have fallen apart and the centre cannot hold. Jeffrey’s direct confrontation with the leadership—something which could only be dreamt of before June 23—points to some serious leadership problems in DPP. It shows that some members of the NEC have lost patience in the party and trust in their party leader.
Such problems have the potential to rip the party apart further and render it irrelevant in the country’s democratization process. This is a party which is still smarting from the loss in a presidential election. Add that to the fact that some of its leaders are embroiled in fraud and corruption deals involving billions of Kwacha which have negatively dented the party’s image.
But this is the time DPP should have embarked on a rebuilding exercise. It should have started picking up the pieces to chart a new path going forward to strengthen the party. One can only hope at the Thursday NEC meeting, members spoke their minds without fearing the heavy hand that lynched Jeffrey for merely sticking out her neck and stating the bare truth. Jeffrey’s dismissal for speaking out is a sign of lack of intra-party democracy in DPP which venerates authoritarianism.
This rumpus in DPP could only be a tip of the iceberg and has potential to further weaken the fallen party.
But Malawi needs a strong opposition to provide the necessary checks and balances to the Tonse administration and for the growth of our fledgling democracy. Only a strong opposition can work as a watchdog of public interests and keep the ruling team on its toes. We need a strong and constructive opposition for the functioning of a government in a democracy.
Why we need democracy is because it provides a fertile ground for the fermentation of ideas and thus is a catalyst for development. But democracy without a strong and constructive opposition becomes authoritarian in nature and exceeds its delineated jurisdiction which is not in the interest of a democracy (European Conference, 2010). If left to itself even the Tonse administration can become authoritarian. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The new administration therefore needs to be kept in check. Hence the need for a strong, constructive and viable as well as reformative DPP-led opposition that can play an important role in enforcing governance.
One can only hope that the Thursday NEC meeting did not just lash out at Jeffrey but mapped out strategies and modalities that will enable DPP to effectively play its rightful role as the main opposition in the next five years.