As the battle for the position of Speaker heats up, both sides of the Parliament aisle are putting up names of women parliamentarians as candidates, The Nation can reveal.
News from the two major parties, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), indicates that in the running for position of Speaker are Mzimba North East legislator Catherine Gotani Hara for MCP and Nsanje North member of Parliament (MP) Esther Mcheka Chilenje as the potential DPP candidate.
Meanwhile, UTM Party, with its four MPs and United Democratic Front (UDF) with its 10 MPs, can only watch from the sidelines.
Women rights activists have since welcomed the news, saying it is high time the country had a female Speaker.
MCP secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka and DPP spokesperson Nicolas Dausi, however, say no final decision has been made on the candidate to field.
But impeccable sources within the two camps indicate that the two parties are playing psychological games and have read each other’s plans to field a female candidate.
Said the MCP source: “We are hoping for Catherine Gotani Hara for the post. So, if all goes well, we are hopeful she will carry the day. The position for the First Deputy Speaker also goes to a woman, Nancy Tembo.”
While there are two women in the MCP camp, a source from DPP told The Nation that the party first settled for two names—Bright Msaka and Esther Mcheka-Chilenje.
“But it has turned out it is a directive from the President that we field a woman on the position, so Chilenje will contest,” the DPP source said.
So far, some of the minority parties in the House such as Peoples’ Party (PP) and UTM Party have said the choice of the Speaker to them is about whether one is capable and not where one comes from.
PP spokesperson Ackson Kalaile told The Nation that they are an opposition party and they will be allocated their place, but when it comes to the election of Speaker, they will support whoever is capable and befitting of the job.
“We will support a candidate that has dignity and ready to govern in a mature way,” he said.
UTM Party spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga also said they don’t care which party or bloc one belongs to as long as the person is capable.
“Gone are the times that we should be electing a Speaker based on party [affiliation], we should look at capability,” he said.
There are only 45 female MPs in the 193-member House even though the country is party to over 16 gender normative frameworks committing to promoting gender equality in leadership and decision-making positions.
There is an ongoing social media campaign promoting the election of a female Speaker, without indicating a name.
A trained teacher, Mcheka Chilenje is a two-time Deputy Speaker of Parliament, having been a First Deputy Speaker between 2014 and 2019 and Second Deputy Speaker between 2004 and 2009.
Gotani Hara is a Chancellor College graduate who has also worked for the Department for International Development (DfID) and served as minister of Health and deputy minister of Transport.
Both women stand a chance as the DPP commands the highest number of MPs in the House. In addition to their 62, they claim to have roped in about 30 independent MPs.
Similarly, MCP has courted 18 independents in addition to their 55 elected MPs.
Women’s rights activist Emma Kaliya said in an interview it is high time the country had a female Speaker, adding women need to be given a platform to contest and at least give the country one female Speaker without taking sides.
“While I know that Mcheka has some experience because she has twice been deputy Speaker, but in the spirit of democratic principles, let the two compete and one of them become Speaker. It would be nice to have a female Speaker in the history of Malawi National Assembly,” she said.
The 50-50 Campaign Management Agency, which has been advocating for equal representation of women in leadership positions, said they would want a woman for a Speaker and on other positions that matter.
The agency’s team leader Viwemi Chavula said the country needs a female Speaker for various reasons which include the country’s endorsement of various commitments to ensure more women decision-makers; hence, the need for one female Speaker.
“Voting for a woman Speaker, mayor or chairpersons, will offer an opportunity to represent the views of a larger group of our population. Malawi has never voted for a woman Speaker and mayor in major cities, and yet 51 percent of the population are women.
“Having women in leadership and decision-making positions provides an opportunity to expose critical injustices, as women tend to express their views on socio-economic issues more readily than men,” he said.