The change in the Presidency, occasioned by the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, will bring a lot of political changes in the country both in the short and long term. A number of key institutions will be affected. The legislature is such an institution which will bear the short term consequence of this change. Depending on the new cabinet to be appointed by Madam Banda, chances are high that the leadership of the House is bound to be affected, in particular, on the government side.
The positions to be affected are Leader of the House, the government chief whip.
Assuming that the cabinet will change and that some of the faces that are currently in cabinet and who held leadership positions in parliament like Dr George Chaponda and Vuwa Kaunda will not be in the new cabinet, then the new government will have to look critically at the individuals to be given these positions.
What we might have is a repeat of the 2004-2009 Parliament. Indeed the membership configurations in the House will change. DPP will be on the opposition benches. The PP has only 3 members, who were once DPP. In this kind of setting and coming from a background of political animosity between the then ruling party DPP and the PP, one cannot rule out the National Assembly to once again be the focal point if not the political battleground of these two parties; a repeat of the late Bingu’s first term. It is therefore important for the PP government to get prepared for eventualities in parliament. This is why the individuals to assume parliamentary leadership have to be carefully scrutinized in terms of their experience and knowledge of parliamentary procedures and practices.
What choices are available for the PP? As indicated, PP currently has the following Members Khumbo Kachali, Anita Kalinde and Jennifer Chilunga. Of the three it is Khumbo Kachali who has the experience but unfortunately he lost his parliamentary seat by virtue of his appointment to the vice presidency. Otherwise, he was best suited for the leader of the house role to handle any situations on the floor of the House that might threaten the agenda of government from the opposition.
As of now, the PP government has to consider roping in a more experienced member of the opposition into cabinet with a view of appointing him or her as Leader of the House.
That scenario brings to mind a few names from the opposition: Ibrahim Matola, Joseph Njobvuyalema and Uladi Mussa. Njobvuyalema might be a difficult one to get considering the conservative nature of his party and party boss, John Tembo. It is either Njobvuyalema he sacrifices his political career in his MCP and opts to serve the nation or PP formally strikes a deal with MCP. However, any formal deal with MCP, PP should be prepared to compromise big on some key positions beyond that of leader of the house.
This leaves Ibrahim Matola and Uladi Mussa. Uladi, who is also president of the Maravi People’s Party (MPP) served as minister in various portfolios in both Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Muthalika’s rule and stands a better chance than the youthful Matola. However Matola is more articulate and more acceptable in the House than Chengi Golo (Change Goal), as Uladi is popularly known.
The other extreme is PP to dine with its [former] devil and make its pick from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). This might include Ken Lipenga, Ken Kandodo or indeed to maintain George Chaponda as a minister and eventually Leader of the House. As expected, this is very unlikely given the rough ride that some of the founding members had with the then ruling party.
Betting for the unexpected, Dr. Ken Lipenga stands a better chance; however, if the president wishes to be seen to be distributing positions equally by region then Kandodo would prevail over the current finance minister. The ability of the soft-speaking grandnephew to the founding Malawi president, at handling hot parliamentary issues has not been tested and as such it might be risky for the JB government to entrust him with a role in a house where the stakes are high.
The other alternative is to look outside Parliament but within PP. This option would mean looking at someone who was once a member of parliament and understands how parliamentary business is conducted. That person would first be appointed into cabinet. Names like Brown Mpinganjira, Clement Stambuli, Kizito Ngwembe, Bonface Kadzamila, Ettinor Koloviko etc come to mind. The president will have a difficult choice from this group when it comes to leader of the House. However, this would be a little departure from the tradition as leader of the house has, for years, been an MP. Whether such a member would have the respect of the elected members of the house is a topic for another day. . Mpinganjira would be ideal for that position. BJ, as the former Mulanje Central parliamentarian is popularly known, has the experience and tact to convince even the most difficult of DPP members in the house. He is a well-known mobilizer. The advantage of having a Leader of the House from PP is that undiluted agenda of the PP will be pushed in the House spiritedly knowing that in less than 2 years the presidency will be up for grabs. Admittedly, a Leader of the House from the opposition would do the job, but perhaps not with the same zeal as would a person from PP.
The other important position is Government Chief Whip. Recently the Speaker made a ruling that a Party with one or two members in parliament cannot have a whip. PP does not have its own members except those two (leaving out Kachale) who were once DPP. How will the speaker reconcile his ruling with this scenario in as far as the position of government chief whip is concerned?
Nevertheless what has to be borne in mind is that a government chief whip MUST be a member of parliament who would command respect amongst his/her peers. Should the president decide to look for a whip within her PP, then Malawi will have a female government chief whip in Anita Kalinde.
Whatever choice the President settles for, we are going into a very exciting period in which the whole nation would be focused on the proceedings of the House. It is therefore important for the President to carefully understand the parliamentary challenges her government faces and be able to put in place individuals who would lead the House into a parliament that is responsive, effective and predictable for the good of Malawi.