The UDF is a party in the news. This week the Malawi Law Society spoke on the party’s presidential candidate and the risks that his candidature brings. I spoke spoke with UDF director of research Humphrey Mvula.
Me: So many voices but it seems the UDF is listening to itself, only.
Mvula: I disagree that the UDF is listening to its own voice only.
Me: That is what we are seeing?
Mvula: That is a wrong vision. The national conference elected Muluzi as its candidate for 2009. He was elected by representatives from all constituencies. People exercised their democratic right. Beyond that, the national executive committee has carried out adequate consultations in Malawi and abroad: QCs and others have been consulted. What comes out clearly is that there is no law that bars Muluzi from standing. The cardinal point is that he has been elected by the 2000 delegates from all over Malawi.
Me: True. The UDF is, so far, the only party to hold a convention prior to next year’s elections. But that was just an illusion because there was no level playing field. Muluzi had been campaigning for over a year. Should we be attributing that choice to people?
Mvula: I disagree with you. The convention had been cancelled several times over two years and anyone who was interested in standing for the UDF presidency had adequate time to sell himself to the electorate. Additionally, anyone who wants the presidency in any party must have long range planning done two or three years go. You should be able to distinguish Muluzi and the chairman of the party [from] Muluzi as the presidential candidate.
Me: How do we distinguish? They are one. Muluzi as national chairman, as presidential candidate, as financier of the party—these are one?
Mvula: No, no, no! They are not. That is a perception!
Me: And perceptions are more important than reality. In fact, perceptions reflect reality.
Mvula: In politics, leaders can be synonymous with party structures and command. This happens in the political industry. A leader becomes a persona of a party. Muluzi was able to market himself and the party did not bar anyone from showing interest or marketing themselves.
Me: But there must be something strong in UDF that stopped people like Friday Jumbe and Brown Mpinganjira from contesting because Muluzi was contesting.
Mvula: The strongest factor that stopped them was their conscious, and their respect for the elderly in African setting. Possibly personal understanding that we have been mentored by this same person, shall we be able to oust him? But beyond that, it is people that vote. For you to contest, you must have a body of people who can vote for you. Astute leaders assess themselves and decide whether to contest or not.
Me: Law, yes. There might be no law that stops Muluzi but morally, he is supposed to retire and let others in UDF run the affairs of the party.
Mvula: I don’t agree with you on that point. All over examples abound of people who have come back.
Me: But are these examples good enough to follow?
Mvula: In Pakistan, Spain and Italy, Israel. The issue of allowing a good leader to come back should not be attached to morality. There is nothing immoral about Muluzi coming back into the party. As long as people in UDF say this is the best candidate in this contest, it may not be correct for us to stop.
Another factor is that if President Bingu wa Mutharika was still in the UDF today, there would have been no talk of Muluzi now. Mutharika did not just dump UDF, he did two dangerous things. He denied the UDF the honour of supporting and electing a successful President. He also short-circuited the party’s succession plan. Some of the people in the succession plan were taken to the new party, meaning that the UDF has suffered a huge gap.
Me: But there are still more of you in UDF?
Mvula: No. Leaders are not picked from the street. They are developed, nurtured and become leaders, everywhere, in any industry. This is the story that you are not telling on behalf of UDF. It is a party that has suffered a succession crisis.
Me: But it was self-made.
Mvula: It was not self-made.
Me: The UDF did not create a conducive climate for the President. There was Fast Track, there was all this jabbing. How would a person stay?
Mvula: I don’t want to go into that because it involves a President who is in another party. It is not true that the UDF did not create an environment good enough for Mutharika. It is not true that anyone wanted to take away the honour of the President. The party was convinced and confident that within the first 10 years, we were to consolidate democracy and next [years] the economy. So the choice [of Mutharika] was in that sense.
Me: I am glad you say that because when we study new democracies the first decade or so is for democracy consolidation and the later years for economic growth. The tragedy is that the UDF candidate is campaigning on the consolidation of democracy when we are in a phase that emphasises on the creation of wealth because it is rich people who can demand freedoms.
Mvula: We have never campaigned on the premise of consolidating democracy.
Me: The UDF candidate is campaigning on that premise?
Mvula: No, no, no. The issue of democractisation, rule of law, human rights, power to the people, are enshrined in the Constitution. Whatever happens in a democracy should have a human face. What is happening today is dangerous. Section 65, the failure to hold local government elections—these are examples that we are rolling back to what we fought against. The leader who is coming in 2009 must safeguard the Constitution. Our manifesto never talks about one item. What you are doing is picking one item.
Me: Why is your candidate talking about democracy only?
Mvula: We have not rolled out our campaign. We will be doing that very soon and that is when you will see what we will do on agriculture, economy and other areas.
Me: It looks like people are still not sure and are looking back to UDF to correct the candidature of Muluzi. The party may be creating a crisis if Muluzi is refused to contest. If that happens, it will be a national tragedy. Why not prevent this now and be sure of the future?
Mvula: If you listen carefully and analsye these voices, how many of them are neutral? Our political competitors have talked about risks which we don’t see. What is it that in the current Constitution or PPE [Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act] that stops Muluzi? I don’t see it.
Me: What if those who have authority to interpret the law say Muluzi cannot stand?
Mvula: I cannot say what we will do. But, obviously, I don’t think those who have authority, in this case the Electoral Commission, can come and say he cannot stand because they are not going to bring new laws. The laws that exist today allow Muluzi to stand. The mischief is that people are dragging Section 83 into this issue. The qualifications of a candidate are not in Section 83.
Me: The spirit of the constitutional conference was that a person should serve a maximum of two consecutive terms and retire and you were there, you know this. Why are you not abiding by the spirit of the Constitution?
Mvula: If the spirit was not translated into the Constitution, it is not the fault of anyone. All the spirit should have done was to remove the word consecutive. If they had done so, then that spirit would have been actualised into action.
Me: So the UDF is taking advantage of the loophole?
Mvula: It is not taking advantage. It is only complying. It has not been repealed. If there is somebody who feels nasty about it, they should demand that it be repealed. As long as it is not repealed, the issue of consecutive is simple English. This is about a sitting President. Why are we mesmerising ourselves? The best I can say is that there are individuals who are peddling a campaign against the strong candidate.
Me: How strong is Muluzi because his decade was not a period that people may wish to come back?
Mvula: I don’t agree with you.
Me: There was a lot of violence.
Mvula: You said the first 10 years are for stabilising democracy. By and large we had a lot of achievements, honestly.
Me: Why should I trust your judgment on the assessment of Muluzi because if you move to another party today, you will be talking different things?
Mvula: Judge me by ability to do what I do. Democracy brought a good Constitution but the Penal Code was old. But here was a leader who did not want to use a Penal Code that was from a one party system. That was from the personality of Muluzi. In terms of Muluzi as an individual, he would be a much much better President than anyone that will be contesting.
In terms of the economy, we inherited empty coffers but we achieved the first debt cancellation in 2000. We achieved and you were there marching with all Malawians. This happened in the UDF era and has never been attributed to the UDF.
Me: Assuming we have two candidates here, Muluzi and Mutharika, I know you will vote for Muluzi. But why should people vote for Muluzi and not Mutharika.
Mvula: This is a difficult question.
Me: But I need an answer.
Mvula: I would compare them in four [areas]. Four years within a democracy and being part of planning that process, and 10 years from a dictatorship, there have been few happenings now. Apart from macroeconomic fundamentals, individuals are poorer than they were. The value of the wage is no longer of any value. Delivery of services is poor. There are more blackouts than when the economy was wavering.
In terms of governance, the kind of Constitution we have is too democratic. It allows power to the people in form of councilors. That we have not had these in four years is serious. The third one is the way leadership is played. In a democracy leaders are servants, not masters.
Finally, adding value to our raw materials. Why should we sell our tobacco as raw materials. The adding of value should be able to bring more money. I can go on and on and on but I am the first to agree that there has been macroeconomic gains that have not translated into microeconomic, the downstream operations. The other thing is our adoption of structural adjustment programmes has been without coping mechanism in terms of people being fired if we are closing a company.
Me: Why is it that people become wiser once they are in opposition and they see what they didn’t see when in power?
Mvula: I don’t think that is correct?
Me: It is. If you were in power you would not be talking of coping mechanism and all that.
Mvula: No, no, no.
Me: You would be defending the system.
Mvula: No! Take it from me. Record this and put it in the newspaper. If I am part of a power system, I will always talk about what I am talking about.
Me: Are you sure?
I am saying record it for the sake of posterity.