/ 20 June 2008

Malawi leader suspends Parliament over budget row

Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika on Friday suspended the opposition-dominated Parliament over its failure to pass the budget.

”I still maintain my decision that the meeting of Parliament will be adjourned on June 20. This is because it has become obvious that the opposition does not want to approve the budget,” Mutharika said in a radio and television broadcast.

He said Malawi is ”passing through hard times as the opposition is trying to take over government through the back door”, in reference to the controversial constitutional clause that allows the speaker of Parliament to fire lawmakers who cross the floor, and subsequently force the president out of office.

The opposition has vowed that it will not pass the budget until Speaker Louis Chimango fires the MPs, most of whom joined Mutharika’s minority Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after he ditched the former ruling United Democratic Front in 2005.

”The opposition wants to use section 65 [of the Constitution] to bring down this government and as a tool for revenge and retribution against government members of Parliament who are deemed to have crossed the floor by leaving their parties to join the DPP,” Mutharika said.

Mutharika, who came into office in April 2004, has questioned the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the expulsion of defecting lawmakers, saying the judges ”ignored the fact that the MPs are free to move from one party to another”.

He said the defecting MPs had ”exercised their freedom of choice and association” by joining his minority party.

The budget, which was to come into effect on July 1, includes $50-million set aside for the country’s fourth multiparty general elections set for May next year.

The president said that the 193-member Parliament could reconvene ”if there is reasonable guarantee by the opposition that they will adopt the national budget within a specific agreed period”.

Mutharika, who has been at loggerheads with ex-president Bakili Muluzi (1994-2004) after he ditched the former ruling party, recently accused his predecessor and an ex-army chief of involvement in a plot to oust him from power.

Muluzi, who has not been formally charged with the coup plot, has denied his involvement in it. — Sapa-AFP