Sunday, 12 August 2012

Will three vice presidents strengthen PP?

I am yet to find answers to some questions regarding the intention by Malawi’s ruling People’s Party (PP) to restructure its top leadership.

In Friday (August 11th )’s re-broadcast of Zodiak Radio’s Tiuzeni Zoona, PP Publicity Secretary Steve Mwenye and Secretary General Henry Chibwana told the host, Pilirani Phiri, the party will elect three vice-presidents, each representing Malawi’s three regions. The elections will be held at the party's first national convention scheduled for August 27 this year.

Surely, PP hopes that this arrangement will help secure nation-wide appeal. Most political parties in Malawi are identified by regions, consequently rendering their grip over some geographical areas relatively weak. PP’s planned leadership structure therefore must be an attempt to circumvent that. It must be PP’s belief that if each region produces a vice president all its members across the country will feel represented at the top leadership level, thereby fortifying membership loyalty and commitment to the party.

If that was all there is, the party would be said to be somehow vaccinated against the tendency of looking at party business with regionalistic eyes. Unfortunately, that is not as straightforward as it sounds.

With three vice presidents, the party will be opening a new set of possible challenges that it will have to grapple with if there is no concrete plan as regards the management of its new power structure. I find a few questions a bit mind boggling.

For example, does PP believe that having three vice presidents, with each representing each region, is the best strategy for making itself a truly national party and get rid of regionalistic tendencies? I doubt it. This is what I mean:

In the interview with Zodiak, Mr Henry Chibwana said the vice presidents will not have to come from the particular regions they will be representing. In other words, an aspirant from the south could become vice president for the centre or the north. That doesn’t sound very realistic to me.

There is a high likelihood that due to the mere mention of a vice president position for, say, the central region, delegates to the convention will be inclined to put a person from that particular region in that position. Though not entirely correct, the reasoning is likely to be: who else can best represent a region other than an individual who comes from there? In fact region of origin is likely to be a campaign issue from the lips of candidates facing contestants from other regions. Is the party therefore being realistic in its expectations on this?

Now there is a question regarding power dynamics. Unless there is some information we are yet to have, the three-vice-presidents-arrangement gives all these office bearers equal powers in the party.

With this equality, who assumes the party’s presidential powers in the event that for some reason an elected president cannot discharge their duties?

Or should it be assumed that each of the vice presidents will have unique responsibilities i.e. vice president responsible for XXX; vice president responsible for YYY issues etc (apart from simply representing a particular region)?

I think it is only if each of the vice-presidents is responsible for other unique functions than simply representing a region, that the party will avoid challenges when it comes to power relations among the three vice presidents. Depending on how they are created, the unique responsibilities may define which vice presidential function is second in command as regards the party’s presidency.

However, that itself has its downside. The choice of who will be in charge of which unique functions cannot be sorted out at the party’s convention as it can only complicate the electoral process. It is therefore a question that can only be conveniently resolved by a small number of people. May be the National Governing Council. However, there is some danger: the NGC may end up installing someone as ‘second in command’ (by virtue of their unique responsibilities) without the blessings of the convention. That doesn’t resemble democracy.

Unless it has already figured out how it will manage power relational politics at the top, PP will be shocked to find itself hurt by the very arrangement that is designed to strengthen it.  As it is, PP’s leadership plan risks rendering the chain of command in the party chaotic which can breed factions.

PP knows very well how power struggle, though for different reasons and in a different fashion, has adversely affected the once mighty opposition UDF. PP should know how leadership fights injure a party’s image. Members and non-members regard such a party as just another disorganised bunch of power hungry politicians, disoriented by greed. And that is not far from the truth.

Considering all this, I feel compelled to ask: through the planned leadership structure regarding the office of the party’s vice president, is PP not creating a fertile ground for power struggle at the top, which, in the long run, may spiral into the party’s disintegration?


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