The Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) has reiterated that the country needs a leadership that will usher in a new beginning, a call that comes through a May 24 pastoral letter entitled A Further Call for New Era in Malawi as the country approaches a rerun of presidential election.
In the pastoral letter which was read in all Catholic churches in the country. The bishops raise concerns over the way the current government and the electoral body Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) have so far handled the electoral process.
To underscore the responsibility of the voter, the bishops say that Malawians are at a crossroad and must “make a choice between life and death,” citing Deuteronomy 30:19.
The rerun follows the Constitutional court ruling on February 3 which nullified last year’s the May 21, 2019 presidential election on the basis of MEC’s incompetence and mismanagement of the election manifested through systematic irregularities.
The ruling Democratic Party’s president who was declared winner by MEC challenging the ruling of the Constitutional Court and appealed to the country’s Supreme Court which upheld the lower court’s on May 11, 2020 and insisted that a rerun takes place within 150 days which lapses on June 2, 2020.
Tentatively, the rerun is scheduled for June 23, 2020 hence the bishops’ appeal to government to put in place an electoral body whose leadership “can provide appropriate direction and supervision of the process” so that the rerun would be “free, fair, credible and peaceful.”
In the pastoral letter, the bishops remind Malawians that their call of change of leadership was already made in 2018 through the pastoral letter entitled A Call for a New Era in Malawi where they already insisted that “the need for ushering a new era in Malawi has reached a critical stage where we can either generate into a failed State or rise to a unified, orderly and prosperous nation.”
Among the social ills facing the country, the bishops have cited the rising of tribalism shown by government’s nepotistic appointments; political leaders seeking to gain votes “by whipping up the anger of others against other tribes”; increased acts of political violence; impunity shown by failure of State machinery to investigate the killings of people with albinism and the elderly persons suspected of witchcraft; failure of police to take action on people who are involved in mob justice.
The bishops further decry the rising levels of corruption and fraud whereby national resources are being plundered. “The biggest victims of these evils are the poor and vulnerable people. This calls for strong, decisive and exemplary leadership at the top,” say the bishops adding that the country is now left with dysfunctional systems of public service delivery.
While the bishops appreciate efforts made by government and international community in finding resources and setting up committees in response to the Covid-19, they note a need for a more inclusive and coordinated approach to address the pandemic, raise awareness and that demonstrate transparency in the way the resources are being handled.
Furthermore, “the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed how under-resourced our health system is in terms of infrastructure, equipment and personnel. This has happened because for a long time we have not put enough resources into the system and some of the little that has been put into it has been misused,” the bishops continue adding that the same applies to the education system.
The Conference also reiterates concern about destruction of the environment and natural resources which is putting the country at risks of desertification and food insecurity and urge all Malawians “to promote sustainable development by paying attention to climate change as a matter of grave concern.”
While they applaud the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) for acting professionally during demonstrations and maintaining public trust, the bishops strongly condemn the Malawi Police Service (MPS) which, according to them, has lost public trust and “is generally considered a partisan and dysfunctional.”
The bishops point out that Malawi needs a leader who can turn things around, a message which they already sent to the nation in 2003 and 2013 through the pastorals entitled Choosing our Leaders in the Forthcoming Elections and Strengthening the Vision of Our Destiny respectively.
In both letters, the bishops consistently highlight the qualities of a leader that Malawi needs such as honesty, democratic, transformational, visionary, selfless and servant leadership.
Despite the unity of bishops demonstrated through the pastoral letters which are endorsed unanimously as a Conference, a sampling of the emerging reactions of some Catholics via social media indicate that the country is divided on tribal and regional lines on which basis the people vote for a candidate, ignore the issues of national concern and the values which they bishops propose.
Meanwhile, as campaign has reached its peak, supporters of the nine-party opposition party alliance TONSE have commended the pastoral letter as prophetic while those sympathetic to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its ally the United Democratic Front (UDF) accuses the bishops of favouring a particular candidate and playing partisan politics.
“My only worry is the platitudes in the pastoral letter. They (the bishops) have no right to endorse the interests of one individual member of the church,” Zodiak Online of May 25 quotes a reaction of one Catholic sympathetic to the DPP who finds the pastoral letter to favor the opposition where the running mate to the presidential candidate is a Catholic faithful.