1. MANY MPs LACK SERIOUSNESS
The number of Parliamentarians absent is simply appalling. From inside the chamber, I counted no less than 55 empty MP seats, which is well over 25%. Ambassadors of countries were there, heads of companies from across the country were there, and even two former Speakers of Parliament (Chimunthu-Banda & Chimango) were there, none of whom have to be there. But more than a quarter of the MPs who have to be there thought it not worth their while to show up on the first day of Parliament when the Head of State delivers his State of The Nation Address. Like I said, appalling!
2. THE PA SYSTEM INSIDE THE CHAMBER IS A JOKE
The balcony of the chamber was packed, but when I went there, I could not hear a thing the president was saying. An employee of the House then showed me to a seat in the chamber itself, but I still couldn’t hear a thing. I thought that maybe it’s because the President was not speaking into his microphone properly or that he was not enunciating his words well. But when I stood just outside the chamber where the overflow had been set up for people to hear the speech via telecast, I could hear the president just fine, and when I went outside the building altogether to listen to the speech via the speakers that had been set up for the party folks gathered outside, I could hear him even better. So it seems that if you want to hear the President’s speech, the place to do that is anywhere except inside the chamber where he actually delivers it. I have complained about this before, and it baffles me that it continues session after session without being fixed. If we are waiting for the Chinese Government which built the house to also install a better sound system, then perhaps we are a nation that is still not fit to govern itself.
3. THE PRESIDENT IS BORING TO LISTEN TO
Once I found a sweet spot outside where I could hear everything the president was saying, I was bored within five minutes. The writing is not just prosaic, but decidedly unpresidential and unnecessarily verbose, and the delivery thereof is as boring as watching paint dry. And even when you watch the president’s body language, you do not get any sense that the man believes the words he is reading or that he feels any depth of emotion about the country or government whose state he is describing. Mutharika is neither persuasive nor passionate, neither energetic nor eloquent, neither inspirational nor informative. His report on the state of air travel is, “Mr. Speaker, Sir, we are transforming air travel in this country. My Government is negotiating with potential investors about the construction of an international airport in Mangochi that is going to transform tourism along Lake Malawi, and we are making good progress.”
No information about what he means by “potential investors”, or what he means by “transforming”, or how he measures “good progress”. But anyone who uses air travel in Malawi knows that these words are clouds without water. He has mastered the art of mumbling speeches for an hour to say more and more about less and less until he has told you everything about nothing. At one point, I did wonder if the fact that more than 50 MPs did not show up is partly a reflection of the fact that Mutharika, entering the final year of his five-year term of office more unpopular even in his own party than he’s ever been at any point in his presidency, is a figure of diminished influence in the apparatus of the State.
4. THE DEMOCRATIC PROGRESSIVE PARTY IS BOTH FORMIDABLE & DISRUPTIVE
The governing DPP mobilized hundreds of party loyalists to come camp on the grounds of parliament as a show of support for the president. Its ability to mobilize supporters in party colors to make the party visible at strategic moments and events is unmatched, and it is naive to just attribute the passion and rigor with which they congregate to cash handouts they receive for doing so, though this is no doubt a factor for some. It is a party that many love and its base is formidable, so any party seeking to remove it from the seat of power without working twice as hard to mobilize support as it is is preparing for failure. Whatever flaws you think the DPP has in matters of governance, being lazy and complacent in matters of politics is not one of them.
Secondly, it is quite a disruptive party, possessed of a belligerent spirit that is not content to simply be present, but feels the need to strut and throw its weight around. On this occasion, the objects of the party cadets’ ire were those in its own rank and file that have recently been making public statements to call on President Mutharika to not seek re-election next year and instead to let Chilima, his more youthful Vice-President, be the party’s presidential candidate at next year’s election. The party cadets were so emboldened in their contempt that they blocked Hon.
Patricia Kaliati, a duly elected parliamentarian of their own party, from entering the House to fulfill her constitutional duties, and harassed one journalist for filming a contingent of them that had been standing inside the chamber to clap, cheer, and heckle at various points of the president’s speech, even disrupting the speech, until the Speaker of Parliament ordered security personnel to escort them out of the chamber, which was not accomplished without much resistance from them. No one in the party seems to know how to control them, not even the president, who could have easily stopped his speech to address them and direct them to cease and desist from their rancor, but he just turned a blind eye to it like Gallio of Achaia.
5. VICE PRESIDENT CHILIMA KEPT HIS COOL
It was clear that the Mutharika-supporting camp of the DPP came to Parliament to turn it into a battleground for reprisals and showboating against the Chilima-supporting camp that has emerged in recent weeks. But Chilima kept his cool. So on top of being formidable and disruptive, the DPP is also in visible turmoil.