By Richard Chirombo:
Hubbub will be the order of the day at Comesa Hall in Blantyre, as President Arthur Peter Mutharika (APM) presents his nomination papers— not for the first time.
In 2014, as a new-comer to high-level politics, he trudged to familiar grounds, Comesa Hall, to present his nomination papers to the then Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) chairperson, the late Maxon Mbendera.
Today, although he heads to familiar grounds, he faces a completely different situation; a new Mec chair Justice Jane Ansah. In fact, he wears the cloak of sitting president, unlike five years ago, when he was just one of the opposition figures aspiring for high office.
They say ambitions may be cultivated with comparative ease; turning them into ‘hard’ reality is the big deal. Nothing short of victory relieves one of the ponderous yoke of ambition.
Sometimes, even when one gets rid of the ponderous yoke of unrealised dreams, one more problem pertains to the unwieldy burden of public expectations.
What, often, acts as the match-stick that sparks public expectations is the campaign tool called manifesto. On their own volition, political parties concoct manifestos and sell them to would-be voters as one sells products or services.
In terms of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the horse[manifesto] APM rode in 2014 was one of the most sound, premised, as it were, on people— hence the title ‘Towards A People- Centred Government’.
One of the issues pertained to ridding the presidency of some of its powers.
The other issue related to the promotion of accountability in governance institutions, notably the graft-busting body, prosecution bodies, law-making institutions and institutions that audit public funds.
The DPP also pledged to promote access to education— by, for example, constructing universities to ease pressure on public universities such as the University of Malawi, Mzuzu University, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Malawi University of Science and Technology.
Security found its way to the list, which is not strange because a nation afraid is a nation cowed.
Also listed was the agriculture sector. Reforms were promised on the issue of farm inputs, which, we were told, would be accessible to everyone.
Freedom of expression was another ‘goat’ thrown at the altar of political promises.
Economic development was also the main course of the meal.
There are other areas that captivated voters’ attention and these are just some of those. The self-created burden of public expectations was, therefore, premised on this.
It has been a mixed bag, though.
On economic development the DPP has delivered, as evidenced by factors such as an import cover that, for the better part, has hovered above the required three months. Economic stability, as evidenced by an unwavering kwacha when pitted against currencies such as the United States dollar, euro and Great British Pound has been another positive.
What is more. Single digit inflation, for the better part of the 25 years of multiparty politics a far-fetched dream, has been a reality. In November last year, there were fears that it would be a thing of the past as we slid back into double digits, only for us to turn the corner again. As we speak, the song is that of single digit inflation.
Then, there is the issue of reduced policy rate. In the past 14 months, the rate has been revised downwards twice.
In terms of education, the government has abolished tuition fees in secondary schools. In fact, Education Minister Bright Msaka has issued a warning that, if students still fail to meet other financial demands of schools and are sent home, the government will not hesitate to act.
Other gains have been made in other areas, something that cannot be taken away from the DPP administration.
However, as if the manifesto points were an egg that is thrown back at the hen that laid it, some ‘rotten’ eggs are thrown back at the smooth face of the ruling party.
One of the bad eggs is failure to make access to farm inputs open, instead of targeted, so that every citizen can have a fair share of the cake. As a result, traditional leaders continue to be subjects of ridicule, notably because the identification of beneficiaries of Farm Input Subsidy Programme remains a well-kept secret.
In terms of construction of universities, Mombera University remains a dream; a dream at foundation-stone level five years down the line.
Then, there is the issue of relinquishing some of the president’s powers. Instead, we have seen him increasing his grip on power. For instance, he is on record to have vetoed the appointment of the Clerk of Parliament Charles Mkandawire, despite the Parliamentary Service Commission opting for him after exhaustive interviews. Mutharika’s pick was Fiona Kalemba.
In terms of information dissemination, he promised to let Malawi Broadcasting Corporation free. The idea was to make it a truly national broadcaster bankrolled by taxpayers.
Whether that has materialised is everyone’s guess.
Access to education remains a far-fetched dream for the majority poor, which is why the current administration has stuck to ‘quota system’.
But, in a world distracted by demands of daily life, it could be that people were too busy to notice these and are ready to move on.
After all, there is always a second chance.
It is possible that, as APM presents nomination papers today, he has found another way through which Malawi can escape nauseating poverty.
It could be that, as he presents papers today, he has renewed hope that it is possible to support one’s manifesto points and be seen to be under obligation to fulfill them.
Whatever the case, what is clear is that, whoever submits nomination papers and whoever wins, an endless procession of problems will, surely, march through the next five-year-term as if on a mission to frustrate Malawi.
Putting a stop to that is a collective responsibility.
Talking of collective responsibility, framers of the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act realised that leading a nation is not a one-person act, hence inserted the provision that one should have a running mate.
So far, APM has kept the identity of the running mate under wraps. But, then, today is a day of reckoning. There is no place big enough to hide the DPP running mate and, like all secrets, the secret has to come out.
The nation will be interested in the aftermath of the declaration [of running mate]. Will the individual be a divisive figure or unifying factor?
The desirable outcome is when the nation is more attracted, than surprised, by the choice of the running mate. Whatever the case, ambition is one and indivisible.
APM could as well be polished for the next course of action— ruling for five more years— but voters are the best judges. That is the sweet-cum-sacred side of democracy; lesser mortals choosing those who, soon, become too important to care about the majority poor.