Part 3: The accidental presidency of Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi

bingu_wa_mutharika.jpgBingu wa Mutharika Tom Likambale
1.05 Mutharika forms new ruling party
By the end of Mutharika's first year in office, he had formed a new political par

The Taiwanese were bankrolling Mutharika’s new party on condition that
Malawi supports Taiwan’s national objectives in international forums
chiefly at the United Nations. In fact, Mutharika's first address at
the United Nations General Assembly as president was notable for its
effusive praise of Taiwan's attributes as a nation which, he argued,
made the case for Taiwan's admission as a fully fledged member of the
UN and its affiliated organisations.

It will be shown later that after he had received all he wanted from
the Taiwanese, Mutharika abruptly switched Malawi's diplomatic
relations from Taiwan to Mainland China.

To buttress his party in the legislature, Mutharika used financial
inducements to attract independent and opposition MPs, often dangling
cabinet posts as bait. In this way he managed to poach members of
parliament from the opposition parties chiefly from the UDF and the
MCP, who then had to cross the floor of Parliament to join his new
party. This is prohibited in the Malawi constitution in the absence of
a fresh mandate from constituents authorising their Member of
Parliament to cross the floor. Section 65 of the constitution requires
a Member of Parliament to first resign his or her seat, and then run in
a by-election before being allowed to sit in the legislature as a
member wearing new party colours.

Mutharika's unconstitutional poaching proved to be yet another
irritant in relations between him and the two main opposition parties,
the UDF and MCP. However, the president believed he was doing nothing
wrong, and, to prove his point, he sought a court reference on the
validity of the 65 prohibition.

The June 15, 2007, opinion of the Supreme Court of Appeal reaffirmed
the validity of Section 65 of the Constitution, upholding an earlier
ruling of the High Court which was to the effect that section 65
entailed that anyone leaving his sponsoring party in Parliament who
joins another party also in Parliament crossed the floor and needed to
resign from Parliament and seek a new mandate from constituents. The
Courts added that section 65 strengthened the multi-party system which
was opted for by a majority of Malawians in the referendum of 1993. Had
the Court expunged section 65 from the Constitution, as Mutharika
wanted, this would have put Malawi on a slippery slope back towards the
return of one-party dictatorship.

The Court reference also reinforced the need for ethical considerations
when elected officials exercised their individual rights such as
freedom of party choice, association etc. The Court’s comments in this
regard, while concentrated on the issue of floor-crossing in
Parliament, were seen to subtly refer to the president's own conduct in
leaving the party that sponsored him to power and forming a new
ruling party that did not exist at the time of voting.

Until it won six by-election parliamentary seats of its own in November
2006, by-elections which were not the result of the defections in
Parliament but by the death of incumbents in the relevant
constituencies, the DPP continued to function in Parliament chiefly
under the auspices of the poached members. The president, despite the
court ruling, adamantly blocked any efforts by opposition parties to
have the defecting MPs dismissed from the House to trigger Section 65
by-elections. The tone in Parliament, therefore, was bitter and
remained so during the rest of Mutharika's term of office. At every
opportunity, the opposition MCP and UDF sought to have Section 65
invoked; and at every opportunity, poached members and new DPP
members stalled and blocked such efforts using every means, including
endless court injunctions served upon the Speaker of Parliament, Louis
Chimango.

Section 12(1) of the Constitution stipulates that political authority
must be exercised in accordance with the Constitution solely to serve
and protect the interests of the people of Malawi. By running on a UDF
ticket, Mutharika advertised himself as a future UDF president. To the
extent that he morphed into someone other than a UDF president, in fact
forming a completely new party to lead government, he betrayed the
wishes of those who voted him into office; and the mandate of the DPP
to the role of a ruling party is non-existent. The same is the case
with MPs who went to Parliament under different party banners and have
since changed to the president's new party without first resigning
their seats and seeking new mandates from their constituents.

The scenario has also produced a high level of corruption in government
for, in order to have enough Members of Parliament on his side, the
president felt compelled to offer ministerial posts, thus ballooning
his cabinet well beyond the numbers and levels of competence he
promised at his inaugural. Malawi now has its largest cabinet ever.
There have also been allegations of monetary inducements. We have read,
for example, about the Special Client Account. This was a secret slush
fund from which the President paid monetary inducements to MPs from
other parties to entice them to join the government side.

1:06 Persecuting the Vice President

Vice President Cassim Chilumpha’s prosecution is yet another example of
the persecution of presumed political opponents using the criminal
justice system that has become a hallmark of the Mutharika regime. The
practice is consistent with the president's standard response to
prominent dissenters. The list of people that are, or have been, at the
receiving end of this persecution is long. It includes, but is not
restricted to, Lucius Banda, Maxwell Milanzi, Sam Mpasu, Clement
Stambuli, Yusuf Mwawa, Gwanda Chakuamba, Harry Thomson, Alfred Mwechumu
and, of course, former president Dr. Bakili Muluzi himself, upon whom
the Anti-Corruption Bureau [ACB] has been unleashed to mete out
constant harassment.

Vice President Chilumpha’s travails obviously arose out of Chilumpha’s
refusal to join Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party [DPP], to the
intense chagrin of the president. Better than Mutharika, Chilumpha
appeared to understand that in a self-respecting democracy, a party
that voters did not elect to power, which didn't even exist when the
voting was done, should not be running government. Secondly, it was
obvious that Chilumpha’s public criticism of the politically motivated
arrests of Lucius Banda and Max Milanzi infuriated Mutharika and his
minions who, in turn, orchestrated Chilumpha’s own arrest and
persecution.

The time line of political events leading to the Vice President's
arrest itself raises clear doubts about his culpability on the charges
proffered and lends credence to the suspicion that his troubles are the
result of politics, and not criminal behaviour on his part.

Before Mutharika's resignation from the UDF, he showed no public sign
of hostility towards Chilumpha. The Vice President was even able to
publicly chastise the president with seeming impunity. For example,
reporter Francis Machado quoted the Vice President in the Daily Times
of Wednesday, January 5, 2005, as publicly advising the president that
no democratic government could run without a party; and that the
president and others owed their elected positions to the efforts of
their sponsoring party, the UDF. In other words, Chilumpha was able to
reproach the president concerning Mutharika’s hostile attitude towards
his sponsoring party, to which the president still belonged at that
point. However, no misfortune befell Chilumpha as a consequence of
this admonition.

Things changed dramatically when Mutharika resigned from the UDF at the
beginning of February and formed his own DPP, thus immediately touching
off a Tsunami of defections from the UDF to the DPP. The president, it
now looks in retrospect, expected Chilumpha to join the bandwagon. But
reporter Tiwonge Kampondeni wrote in the Daily Times of February 18th,
2005, that when the press asked Chilumpha at a ceremony in Nkhotakota
if he was going to join the DPP, his response was a clear No. This
appears to have marked the beginning of real hostilities by the
president towards hid deputy.

The president initiated these hostilities when he snubbed the customary
farewell handshake from his deputy at Kamuzu International Airport as
Mutharika was leaving for Europe on the 10th of March, 2005. From
Europe, and contrary to time-honoured protocol, he directed that Health
Minister Hetherwick Ntaba replace him as head of the government
delegation at the burial of Mangochi Catholic Bishop Nervi, despite
Chilumpha’s presence at the same function.

From that point on, there were reports of the Vice President's Office
being systematically starved of timely disbursements of its budgetary
allocation for fuel and sundries, often forcing the Vice President to
be immobile. And inexplicably, Chilumpha’s press officer was arrested
together with Mabvuto Banda and Raphael Tenthani – journalists who had
told the world about alleged ghosts at New State House masquerading as
marauding rodents and allegedly giving the president nightmares.

Later, following Chilumpha’s publicly stated, and correct, disapproval
of the politically motivated arrests of Lucius Banda and Max Milanzi,
recriminations from the Mutharika regime came fast and furious. The
president himself publicly vilified his deputy and so did the Attorney
General who accused the Vice president of, among other things, not
attending cabinet meetings.

The Minister of Information and Tourism publicly ordered organizations
to stop inviting the Vice President to their functions and Health
Minister Hetherwick Ntaba and others in the DPP all joined the fray,
ganging-up on the Vice President. Chilumpha’s housekeeping and security
personnel were withdrawn.

A letter of dismissal was written to the Vice President, alleging that
he had, himself, constructively resigned his position as Vice
President. The Vice President denied resigning and reminded the public
that, constitutionally, the president cannot dismiss the elected Vice
President. At this point the Vice President was arrested and charged
with Treason. He was Vice President was made to endure more than a week
of filthy prison conditions at Maula before being released to house
arrest. For him, especially since his public disapproval of the
politically motivated arrests of Lucius Banda and Max Milanzi, it
didn't just rain, it poured!

The above clearly establishes a cause-and-effect pattern relating to
the troubles being visited upon the Vice President by the Mutharika
regime. It is obvious that Chilumpha is being persecuted as a direct
result of his failing to satiate Mutharika’s manifestly insatiable
appetite for total political loyalty. Mutharika has failed to get this
kind of loyalty from his deputy and is clearly out to get his pound of
flesh from Chilumpha. There is virtually no one in Malawi who actually
believes the charge that Chilumpha plotted to kill Mutharika.

The courts, to whose will Malawi’s policing and prosecuting services
ought to submit, will confirm, through their handling of the Chilumpha
case and others like it, if Malawi has now officially become a Banana
Republic where challenging the president leads directly to harassment
by police, the ACB and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions; and
ultimately to convictions on fabricated criminal charges. It is
incumbent upon the courts to demonstrate that they are not just branch
offices of this regime. Given the infinite power of the state to
manufacture otherwise non-existent evidence against those who have
fallen out of political favour with the president, a reasonable doubt
about their criminal guilt ought to automatically arise in cases of
people dragged to court by government for manifestly political reasons.

The world is watching Malawi in these cases. Therefore, it is not only
Cassim Chilumpha who is on trial in the court of world public opinion.
So is Malawi’s entire criminal justice system. Mr. President, for the
sake of Malawi’s international image if for no other reason, free
Cassim Chilumpha now!

Nyasa Times

Post published in: Zimbabwe News

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