A president without a party

Malawian President Bingu Mutharika’s tenure is becoming increasingly tenuous after the largest opposition, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), joined the ruling United Democratic Party (UDF) in demanding that he step down. Mutharika resigned from the UDF last Saturday after a bitter nine-month stand-off with his predecessor and current party chair Bakili Muluzi over his tough stance on corruption. The infighting has led to Muluzi loyalists publicly claiming that senior party members had rigged last year’s presidential poll in his favour.

In the wake of the resignation, the MCP pledged to “work with the president and support his Bills as long as it is for the good of the nation”, heaping praise on his anti-graft drive.
But this week, they changed tack urging Mutharika to quit and “complete the process of disassociating himself from the electoral fraud and rigging that he acknowledged last Saturday” when explaining his decision to jump ship.

But the president’s press officer, Prescot Gonani, has maintained: “The president was elected by the people of this country and will continue serving the nation.”

Other opposition and independent politicians as well as the majority of Cabinet ministers in Malawi’s National Assembly are lining up behind the embattled president.

One of the UDF’s alliance partners in government, the Republican Party, said it would “support the President”. Its leader, Gwanda Chakuamba, was this week appointed Minister of Agriculture in a mini Cabinet reshuffle in which Muluzi loyalists were axed. Just hours after Mutharika’s resignation, Aleke Banda of the Mgwirizano Coalition announced that it was withdrawing its court challenge to the presidential election results because it is “satisfied with the way the president is running government and wants to assist him with implementing his policies”. More than 20 independent candidates aligned to the UDF have also shifted allegiance to Mutharika. This week alone four Cabinet ministers quit the UDF.

Mutharika is expected to launch his own party — the Democratic Progressive Party — and has already held discussions with independent MPs and traditional leaders.

The UDF, which called on Mutharika to vacate office, said through its secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, that it has sought legal advice on the party’s status quo.

“Our Constitution is silent about it. What the president did makes him an independent president. This means that the UDF is an opposition party. Parliament has to review the Constitution to take on board what has happened,” said Linda Dziyendammanja of Malawi’s Law Society.

This is not the first time that the Constitution has been put to the test. Last year the then vice-president Justin Malewezi resigned from the UDF and remained in his post until the elections.

Can Mutharika be impeached?

Under Section 86 (2) of the Constitution the president can be impeached on the grounds of serious violation of the Constitution or serious breach of the written law of the Republic. Analysts doubt that the UDF could muster the two thirds required to move an impeachment motion in Parliament. According to political analyst Boniface Dulani, “The President will serve until his term of office expires in 2009. There is no law that bars him. But he will need the support of opposition MPs.”

Nixon Khembo Political Science Lecturer at Chancellor College said, “Even if he announces he is forming a party the opposition will still support him. The party will be outside Parliament until 2009 when it will have to contest the elections.”

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