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Malawi Parliamentary Defections Come Under Fire

  • James Butty

Malawi President Joyce Banda

Malawi President Joyce Banda

A South African law professor said Malawians should do everything possible to put a stop to the rash of political defections by members of parliament.

Danwood Chirwa, professor of law at the University of Cape Town said defections encourage what he called the “politics of the stomach,” while at the same time undermining the accountability of the executive.

Chirwa said Malawians should implement Section 65 of their constitution which prohibits defections by members of parliament. Chirwa said the defections are anti-democratic and those wishing to do so must first seek a new electoral mandate.

“What we have seen is that there is serious defection. When there is a new president from a different party, then people defect. Then, the very same people, senior kinds of people, when there is a new president with a different party, they defect again. So, they keep going round and round. When they do defect, the speaker of parliament must then declare their seat vacant, and then there should be by-elections. That’s what the constitution expects,” he said.

Chirwa said the government must fully implement Section 65 of the constitution, which prohibits defections, whether it favors the government of the day or not.

He said political defections, as they are being practiced in Malawi, are bad for democracy because they attract greedy politicians.

“Once you defect, you do not enter into policy discussions with the party you are defecting to. All that happens is that they agree on the kind economic benefits that this person will get either a ministerial position or deputy minister. So, that is the point that I am trying to make, that people defect not in the interest of the state, but only to satisfy their own personal interest,” Chirwa said.

Chirwa says defections have also created the impression that greed, not loyalty or hard work, is an acceptable value. As a result, he says defections have weakened Malawian political parties because they undermine party loyalty.

“If you compete for a party, you use the resources of the party to compete. And because you have also represented the electorate, as a supporter of those core policies of that party, you are expected to remain loyal to the goals and representations you made. In fact, in Malawi, political parties have [become] so weak, party leaders cannot control their own MPs because they can defect any time,” Chirwa said.

He says defections have also been costly for the Malawian taxpayer because, in the effort to “satisfy the personal demands of the defectors, each successive government has moved from a smaller Cabinet to a bloated one, ignoring the scarcity of resources.”

Chirwa said, in addition to implementing Section 65 of the constitution, Malawian politicians should learn to build political coalitions.

“If you have a minority government, you need to engage and engage at a policy level in the national interest, rather than engaging MPs individually just to throw money at them and then expect that you will run a country,” Chirwa said.