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07 Oct 2003 11:36
Malawi’s High Court has nullified a section of the country’s constitution that limits the freedom of association for lawmakers, describing it as an “oppressive monster”.
The clause in the constitution restricted lawmakers and politicians from participating in political groupings other than their own parties.
In his landmark ruling on Monday, High Court judge Anaclet Chipeta said the law virtually shadowed parliamentarians in whatever they do and that they lived in constant fear of losing their elected seats if they associated with another political grouping.
“In a free country like Malawi, I cannot call this piece of law reasonable,” he said.
The constitution was amended in June last year to stop what Attorney General Peter Fachi said was “political prostitution” by members of parliament who ditched political parties that sponsored their entry to parliament.
Judge Chipeta said disciplining MPs should be left to individual political parties and not the national constitution.
The ruling nullifying the law was made after a human rights grouping, the Public Affairs Committee, petitioned the court challenging the constitutionality of the section of the country’s supreme law.
Lawyers Ralph Kasambara and Chifundo Ngwira said the piece of legislation was “unconstitutional” as it contradicts the bill of rights in the same constitution which guarantees freedom of association for all.
They also argued that the law was discriminatory since it was not applied to opposition MPs who defected to the ruling United Democartic Front (UDF).
The landmark ruling has far-reaching implications, according to the Malawi Law Society. Several deputies have lost their seats in parliament since last year based on the law.
Law society secretary Charles Mhango said the ruling means that parliament’s decision to sack MPs who crossed the floor to join the opposition can retain their seats.
“It means that all the MPs who suffered under this law now automatically retain their positions,” he said.
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