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Choosing Our Leaders in the Forthcoming Elections

Choosing Our Leaders in the Forthcoming Elections
Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of Malawi
28 December 2003

Greetings

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

We your Bishops greet you in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ and we wish you God's love and peace!

In fulfilment of our role and duty as Shepherds of God's flock entrusted to us, we would like to remind you about some of your duties in society in accordance with the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and the social doctrine of the Church, in view of the forthcoming General Elections.

General Elections

Dear Christian faithful and all people of good will, you are fully aware that we are approaching the presidential, parliamentary and local government general elections this May 2004. Allow us your Shepherds to remind you of your duties and obligations regarding the forthcoming national exercise. In our letters, Choosing Our Future (1993), Building Our Future (1994) and Walking Together in Faith, Hope and Love (1999) on the preparations for the referendum and general elections, we put forward guiding principles for the good of the nation. These guidelines still apply to the approaching tripartite general elections.

Period of elections offers citizens a unique opportunity to take stock and evaluate the state of the nation's economy, education, health, governance, leadership performance, developmental achievements etc. It is time to choose and confirm successful leaders and replace those that have failed us.

Duty to Participate

As Christians and as citizens it is our privilege but also our duty to participate in the electoral process according to our state in life and as the particular matter in question demands.

The laity are particularly encouraged to vote and even to be candidates for political offices. Through our votes and through holding public offices we can influence public policies and governance with Gospel values which can transform our social life. As Christians we must assist fellow citizens to get rid of an apparent voter apathy among us. Christians are people of hope and they live by faith. They do not leave things to fate. We know that our action and participation with the support of the Grace of God, can renew and transform the face of the earth. God counts on us to transform our world. He will not replace our action. Things will not happen just because we wish them to happen.

Our participation in the betterment of this world is necessary. Remember the wise saying “Konza ka pansi kuti kamwamba katsike.” One's vote and everybody's vote does work a big difference in the leaders we choose for ourselves and the policies which the national or local government embarks on. We must all want and be determined to exercise our duties and rights as voters (see Building our Future, no. 21, p 14; Choosing Our Future, no. 8, p. 9).

You know that clergy and religious, unless permitted by Church authorities, are generally prohibited from engaging in direct political activity like forming/founding, directing and campaigning for a political party (see c. 287). This type of political participation is normally left to the laity. The clergy and religious do not take part in partisan politics but they are expected to preach the gospel values and conscientize the nation on justice and peace matters and as citizens they have the right to vote. Working for Gospel values, defending human, civil and political rights in the context of proclaiming the Church's social teaching are part of the work of the Church and its leadership.

We appeal to our National and Diocesan Justice and Peace Commissions, NGO's and the Electoral Commission to embark on civic education in order to empower the citizens in making informed decisions when choosing their leaders.

Electing Good Leaders

Elections are about leadership and governance of our nation, its communities and assemblies. As Christians we are duty bound to ensure that we participate actively and intelligently in placing well qualified, capable and competent persons in public offices. These offices are of enormous social, community and national responsibility. The leaders we choose should help us to realise and implement the vision and dreams we have for our families, the Malawi nation and ourselves. Therefore, certain leadership qualities are of paramount importance in the up-coming elections.

A Person of Vision

A leader must be a person of vision, one that is able to set goals and objectives together with the community. The goals should be gradually but progressively realised for the betterment, development and growth of the said community. People's aspirations, hopes and dreams must be picked up by our leaders and helped to be fulfilled and so con¬tribute to the advancement of social life and quality of life of communities. A leader of vision will make a difference to a community.

Good Governance

Leadership is about good governance of the nation, its communities and assemblies as well as the generation and use of resources therein. Leaders are expected to render service to their people. They are to facilitate that all people fully participate in the development activities and also assist in establishing fair and just formulas for sharing and distributing the nation's resources. This is to be done with equity, transparency and with a political will directed at creating a corruption free environment.

People aspiring for high offices and indeed any public office must be exemplary in their own life and in their ability to work for a corruption free Malawi. Leaders are expected to have the ability to effectively deal with Malawi's major corruption cases and trends. Democracy is not laissez-faire. It requires in its leaders vision and capacity to lead and work for the common good of the nation. Our leaders are expected to have the capacity to govern and develop well thought out policies that can boost the economy of the land; for the well being of all, including the poor and the marginalized of society.

Respect for the Constitution and the Rule of Law

Malawians want leaders who are role models, law abiding; leaders who respect the laws of the land and allow the same to take course even upon themselves. Leaders are not above the law and laws should not be changed for individual or selfish political gains. Our Lord Jesus Christ warned us against the yeast of the pharisees and teachers of the Law who "tie on others heavy burdens which they are not willing to carry themselves" (Mt 23:4). The leaders we choose must be principled persons who have the capacity to create legislation based on sound policies. Legislation must serve to promote and protect the good of all Malawians including minority groups.

Accountability

As in the parable of the talents (Lk 19:11-27, Mt 25:14-30), each one of us shall be requested to give an account of the talents, resources, offices put at our disposal. Those to whom much is given much will be expected (Lk. 12:48). Leaders in particular, as persons holding public office, must be accountable to the people they serve. They are accountable not only for the resources they administer but, also for the exercise of their powers and duties as people's representatives.

Those elected by the people should not be "rubber-stamping" decisions of higher authorities, as it were, merely towing the party line, but must rather consult and represent the views and needs of their constituency and the ordinary citizens. We need leaders who are with and for the people, leaders who are genuine representatives of people. Such leaders will therefore listen to the views of their people and so will be able to deliver satisfactorily by fully addressing needs of communities.

Democratic Person

We want leaders who believe in the fundamental goodness, freedom and dignity of all people and each person. Such leaders will therefore value that goodness and promote it so that it will be freely and fully expressed and utilised for the good of all. Leaders must be keen to work with others and to promote them, to create opportunities for others, to mobilise the talents and resources of their people, to allow them to participate and contribute to national development.

Genuine democratic leaders will often consult ;and listen to others, will appropriately delegate, share power, make corporate decisions and give credit where it belongs. It is good to remember how Jesus corrected his disciples who wanted to wield all power and have all credit come to them. He told them not to forbid the others from casting out demons. If they are not against us they are with us. Leaders must have broad minds and big hearts.

Truly democratic leaders favour democracy within their own parties as well as in the government of the country. They also favour the emergence of young and new leadership and they do not punish by sacking those who are courageous enough to express their dissenting personal view. We need leaders who are able to rise above the limited particular interest of their political party and think of the whole nation.

God-fearing Person

Being a God-fearing nation, Malawi' needs leaders who are genuinely God-fearing; that is, not only by words but in spirit and truth. The God who was revealed to us by Jesus Christ' is a God of love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. Our God brings hope, unity and salvation to His people. Malawi needs leaders who will in truth respect our religious traditions, our faith, the moral fibre of society as well as the multi- religious nature of our country as enshrined in the bill of rights of the Republican Constitution.

Malawi must not only respect the positive aspects of our historical religious traditions which have shaped the nation and its peoples but also initiate positive inter-religious dialogue to ensure continued peaceful religious co-existence and mutual understanding. We believe that after due consultations, policies and legislation may have to be formulated and enacted respectively to address this serious matter of ensuring that religious freedom is respected and that Government, Churches, religions and faith based institutions continue to collaborate and complement each other in rendering social services to people in Malawi.

Public leaders must respect human and faith values including those of a moral order, of the people they serve. Leaders should be honest, trustworthy, fair, truthful, with good reputation and integrity (c.f. Building Our Future no 20, pp 13-14). Jesus Christ, the fullness of God's revelation to us is “the way, the truth and the life”(Jn 14:6). He should guide and motivate us in life. The candidate's religious affiliation in itself and by itself is not enough qualification for leadership. Rather the person's values, integrity, public morality, inclusiveness of all Malawians and other leadership skills must also be present in the God-fearing candidate.

Process for Electing Leaders

It is our appeal to you, that the election of these leaders should follow truly democratic processes as laid down in the constitution and other pertinent legislation.

We have a right to choose our leaders, and this right must be exercised in the prescribed procedures of nomination and election. Those who wish to hold political positions must also exercise their right to do so following the prescribed procedures of registration, campaign and holding of conventions, in a way that is not repugnant to the democratic values laid down in various legislation of this country.

Those who want to run for leadership positions should be encouraged and allowed to contend freely without being harassed, intimidated or hindered in any way. At the same time, they must not be imposed on communities and parties. While those in leadership positions have the right to propose or suggest candidates, they should not impose candidates on the people, constituencies or wards. If democratic processes are respected in the choice of leaders, then it will be most likely that leaders will be chosen who will have the desired qualities and capabilities to steer Malawi in the right direction.

Access to Mass Media

For elections to be free and fair one of the essential elements is to make sure that each party and all candidates have access to media, be it print or electronic; and to campaign freely without undue hindrances or obstructions. Access of all parties to the public media will enable Malawians to make informed decisions on the candidates and parties. The playing field for the elections must be leveled. Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and Television Malawi (TVM) must play their rightful role of fairly serving all without favouring certain parties, institutions or individuals. The MBC and TVM are expected to operate in observance of the Communications Act.

A Violence Free Process

We pray and appeal to all of you that all stages of the on coming electoral process be free of any form of violence. This includes violence in speeches, in disrupting political meetings, threats, abusive and foul language, activities of political youth groups etc. Character assassination and insults should be avoided at all times as they are against love and peace. We must also prepare our people to avoid such violence as that which happened at the time of the 1999 general elections in some areas and those during the by-elections in certain constituencies.

We all know that violence breeds violence. “Those who trust in the sword will die by the sword” (Mt. 26:52). Violence is a sign of weakness and it does not build. Christ came into our world to bring peace, unity and reconciliation. He prayed that, “They may all be one, ... as you are in me and I in you, may they be in me, and I in them” (Jn. 17:21). We urge political leaders and party functionaries to desist from using inflammatory and violent language during campaign rallies and indeed at all times. As St Paul instructs us “Do not use harmful words in talking. Use only helpful words the kind that build up and provide what is needed” (Eph 4:29). Let our campaign efforts focus on policies, development issues, party programmes and the concrete plans the parties have for this nation.

In this area, the people of Malawi have the right to expect from the Malawi Police professional and impartial service in defence of their rights and in bringing to book those who perpetrate terror and violence and so infringe on their civil and political rights and liberties.

The Role of the Electoral Commission

The people of Malawi expect: the Electoral Commission to perform its constitutional duties of managing elections fairly and professionally. The role and functions of the Commission are so important that it demands neutrality, unbiasness, and a very high code of conduct in individual commissioners and the Commission as a whole. The Commission and its membership must-command respect, avoid being partisan and must perform their duties for the good of the nation without fear or favour. Thus, its declarations of election results can and should be readily acceptable.

Love and Peace to Guide All

Jesus our Lord tells us as he told his disciples “By your love they will know you are my disciples” (Jn 13:35). So let us live in love and love one another and so promote our unity and peaceful co-existence as Malawians in our varied ethnic, religious and political diversity. Peace and unity do not mean conformity but rather living together in harmony with people of different backgrounds, social affiliations and even those with dissenting views. As Christians we are invited to love people even though we do not accept their views or beliefs. The same Jesus our Saviour said he had come to bring peace into our world and homes: “Peace I leave with you” (Jn 14:27) he said. Our Christian faith invites us to let thoughts of love and peace guide and govern our life as we build this earthly city in fellowship with others, to create a good environment as we await the fullness of our liberation in Christ. (Rom 8:23).

Conclusion

We, the Bishops, as your shepherds invite you to make good preparations for this year’s general elections which should focus on making good choices of our leaders so that the visions, aspirations and needs of Malawians are met. The salvation which Christ and His Kingdom bring to us touches all levels of human life: material, social, economic, political and spiritual. These are achieved by the Grace of God and by the involvement of all for the good of the nation. Let us all fully and peacefully participate in the elections for the good of our Nation.

May Blessed Mary the Queen of Peace intercede for us and our Nation that in the coming months all electoral activities may be conducted peacefully for the betterment of people's lives. May the Spirit of Christ our redeemer guide and inspire us always. Peace be with you all!

Catholic Bishops of Malawi

Tarcisius G. Ziyaye, Archbishop of Blantyre
Felix E. Mkhori, Bishop of Lilongwe
Alessandro Assolari, Bishop of Mangochi
Allan Chamgwera, Bishop of Zomba
Joseph M. Zuza, Bishop of Mzuzu
Remi Ste-Marie, Bishop of Dedza
Peter Musikuwa

Bishop of Chikwawa