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Coming Together After a Tough Election Campaign – What can Malawians Learn from the U.S. Elections?

Many of you watched with great interest the United States Presidential elections campaign and this week’s re-election of President Barack Obama.  The American democratic electoral process is participatory, highly competitive, full of debate, and choices.  Democracy is meant to be dynamic.  It is not always elegant but the strong democratic institutions have for 236 years ensured smooth transitions between Presidencies and political parties.

At the end of tough election campaigns in the United States, participants are usually gracious when they win, and graceful when they lose.

For example, Governor Romney, in his concession speech from his Boston Campaign Headquarters said, “I have just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory. His supporters and his campaign also deserve congratulations. I wish all of them well, but particularly the president, the first lady and their daughters.  This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.”

Minutes later in his acceptance speech at his Chicago Campaign Headquarters President Obama said, “I just spoke with Governor Romney and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign. (Cheers, applause.) We may have battled fiercely, but it's only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service. And that is a legacy that we honor and applaud tonight.” 

Conflict and reconciliation in Government at all levels come in regular cycles based on the interval between elections. There must be vigorous debate but also compromise and willingness to try to agree and work together on important issues even when there is disagreement.

President Obama also said, “The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That’s the principle we were founded on.”

And here in Malawi, the Malawi national anthem reflects that same concept.  I noticed in the first verse of Mulungu Dailitsa Malawi are the lines  “O God bless our land of Malawi,  Keep it a land of peace.  Put down each and every enemy -- hunger, disease, envy. Join together all our hearts as one, That we be free from fear.”  This seems to be just the kind of call that President Obama is making to Americans to come together for the sake of the common good.

I would like to encourage all Malawians, men, and especially women and youth, to take the best practices of U.S. elections as an example for the 2014 elections here in Malawi.

Participation:  Rally families and communities to get involved now in Malawi’s democratic process in preparation for the 2014 elections.  Become knowledgeable about rights and responsibilities within a democracy.

Competition and Choices:  Encourage qualified candidates at the local and district level to run for office.  Then ensure that candidates and political parties fully explain their policies and their vision for Malawi.  

Debate:  Transparent and open debate, while sometimes contentious, is essential.  Individual candidates, parties, the media and civil society contribute to the essential debate that is a part of a democracy.

Compromise:  In the end, a government will be elected and members of all parties must work together for the good of the country.

Democratic Institutions:  Because democratic institutions are the bedrock of a strong democracy, Malawians should hold their democratic institutions accountable to the ideal of a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  

It is a great privilege to live in a democratic country.  But it must not be taken for granted.  For Malawi to realize its potential as a nation, every Malawian citizen must fulfill his or her responsibility in support of the democratic process.