The word “Democracy” derives from the Greek words “demos” and “kratos” meaning “people” and “rule” respectively such that it may be broadly defined as the rule of the people and, indeed, Abraham Lincoln famously defined democracy as “Government of the people by the people for the people.”
The concept of a government having a legitimate mandate to govern derived from the fair winning of a democratic election is a central idea of democracy. New governments who attempt to introduce policies that they did not make public during an election campaign have essentially no legitimate mandate to implement such policies.
Representative democracies are based upon several interrelated principles: The existence of regular, free, fair elections based upon universal suffrage and secret ballots; the existence of competing political parties offering electoral choice; the existence of electoral laws supervised by an independent judiciary; freedom of speech and association; freedom to stand as an election candidate; “reasonable” relationships between votes cast and representatives elected; and the availability of accurate unbiased political information.
The existence of representative democracy demands also that executive activity is bound by the rule of law, that legislative scrutiny of the executive is efficient, that the judiciary is independent of the executive, that pressure groups exist which can influence the political process between elections, that citizens have the right to political protest and that the rights of minorities are respected.
Inherent in any administration’s right to govern and what I call the “Universal Suffrage Contract” is the concept that a government must only continue to govern when it still has the confidence of the people and can continue to demonstrate that it is a good government. Admittedly, the terms of the universal suffrage contract are expressed in the constitution, which provides, for instance, the “remedy” for the electorate in circumstances where the contract has been “breached” by the elected. Ordinarily, the express remedy for such an occurrence is provided as the public’s right to vote out the unwanted administration in elections that occur every 5 years.
Nevertheless, there are implied expectations that provide the basis for nullifying the universal suffrage contract. For example, the constitution did not foresee situations where the leadership could change hands because of the operations of unexpected political dynamics. As a result, late Bingu wa Mutharika was able to change political parties and claim that the universal suffrage contract with the electorate as its president still existed. Joyce Banda has also made a similar claim. This somewhat hybrid situation can be ignored where the leader continues to enjoy much of the people’s confidence as was the case in Mutharika’s first term. This is because the bestowment of the mandate to govern remains a prerogative of the people. Thus where the people are seemingly in approval even of leadership that has stumbled into position by the operation of a constitutional discrepancy, it is within the power of the people to maintain such leadership as long as it is good leadership. Good leadership, however, is leadership that delivers good, competently administered, and visionary programs that uphold human dignity, support individual freedom and assist the nation to be secure and prosper. These are the terms and conditions of the universal suffrage contract, and the basis upon which the mandate to govern is given and the reason why government should be sought.
As a matter of comparative precedent, in the United Kingdom, the parliamentary crisis of 1629-60 originated in King Charles 1’s belief that by the royal prerogative he could govern without the advice and consent of Parliament. This was matched by parliament’s insistence that it had a necessary role in government, particularly in the granting of supply (tax income) to the Crown and in redressing the grievances of those ruled by the King.
The general controversy that has plagued President Joyce Banda in the 10 months that her People’s Party has been in government is beyond petty dissatisfaction. The severe hardships caused by her clueless adherence to little understood IMF policies have resulted in strikes, shortages of drugs in hospitals, rampant corruption in government and unprecedented patronage. The final straw is the protest marches that the country witnessed on 21 February, conducted by primary school children demanding that the government do something about their plight. The fact that the president decided to attend a backslapping Afro-South American summit in Equatorial Guinea in stead of remaining at home to deal personally with the unrests and the serious problems her government is facing speaks volumes about her priorities.
It is easy to miss the implications of the sight of primary school pupils marching in the streets, demanding that their rights be respected and displaying a vote of no confidence in their government. It is even tempting for opposing politicians to look at the situation with glee, cheering that primary school pupils have demonstrated how influential they can be. Far from being something to cheer, however, what happened here is a major tragedy. For it should not be left to impressionable children of this tender age to take matters into their own hands and send a message that their government has lost the mandate to govern. School going pupils should not have to be dragged into political battles because of clueless leadership and intellectually and morally corrupt governance while their parliamentary representatives are silenced by fear, bribes, general malaise and lack of patriotism.
It is on this basis that the responsibility falls upon the National Assembly, the only body with the power and the constitutional mandate, to take up this matter and not fail the country- especially these children. The justification of taxation and for the payment of taxpayers’ money to remunerate the presidency is and will always be the presence on a continued mandate to govern, as obtained from the people. Where this mandate to govern is lost, as is clearly the case here, Parliament must be brave enough to do the necessary and call a vote of no confidence in the president. Simple as that.