31 December, 2008 02:30:00
Analysts have said that apart from using arrests to entrench his alleged dictatorship, the violation of the Malawi Constitution is another tell-tale sign that President Bingu wa Mutharika is steering the country to autocracy.
One of the cases that exposed his failure to abide by Constitutional provisions and hence respect the rule of law has been on the way he handled issues of Section 65, which is about the crossing of the floor.
Initially, Mutharika, under referral powers, asked the Constitutional Court to issue an opinion as to the meaning of section 65 – dealing with Members crossing the floor. The Constitutional Court gave its opinion, which stated that an MP could cross the floor even when one joined a party that was not represented in Parliament.
This meant that most of the MPs who had “joined” the Government side in the House could potentially lose their seats. This seems to have displeased the President and his lawyers sought leave of the Court to appeal against this opinion. The Court denied the President this leave arguing that there were no parties to the referral process. According to the Court, this meant that there were neither losers nor winners and therefore the President (who ought to have been neutral in the matter) could not appeal against that opinion but merely be guided by it.
The President remained dissatisfied with the outcome of the matter and he appealed to the Supreme Court the decision of the Constitutional Court denying him leave to appeal against the opinion of the Court. The Supreme Court also ruled that Section 65 was valid and necessary. Unfortunately that was bad news for Mutharika who to the surprise of many Malawians rejected the Supreme Court ruling on Section 65, blaming former president Bakili Muluzi for masterminding the debacle to oust him as president. How Muluzi crept into issues of Section 65 only heavens know.
In his statement entitled “A House Divided”, Mutharika insisted that Section 65 is invalid, a view that was rejected by the Supreme Court judges headed by retired Chief Justice Leonard Unyolo.
Malawi Law Society, which represents all lawyers including the judges, condemned what they termed as persistent attacks on the judiciary by the President, saying his conduct was a gross violation of the rule of law.
“The President is wrong in attacking the Supreme Court for interpreting Section 65 in the manner in which he disagrees with. Under the Constitution, the authority to interpret the Constitution is vested in the court, and everyone including the President is bound by the interpretation of the Supreme Court,” the sitting MLS president at that time Mabvuto Hara was quoted as saying.
The ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal meant that Parliament would declare the seats of DPP’s nomadic MPs vacant, but what happened later was pure melodramatic.
To prevent the Speaker from invoking the dreaded Section 65, Mutharika administration adopted an increasingly belligerent attitude towards the opposition, Parliament and the courts. Mutharika himself even openly challenged the opposition that he can govern without it, a clear violation of the Constitution in a multi-party democracy.
It is in that atmosphere that Mutharika prorogued Parliament at least once; intimidated opposition MPs, arrested some of them in his usual tit-for-tat war.
On top of the blatant violation of Section 65 as evidenced by the failure of the Speaker to declare seats of nomadic MPs vacant, Mutharika will also go into the annals of history as a leader who flouted the constitutional provisions on hiring and firing senior of government senior officials.
The controversial appointment of Agrinna Mussa as High Commissioner to South Africa, Mary Nangwale as Police IG who later Parliament rejected to endorse and many others probably forms a disturbing string of dictatorial documentary that worry many political stakeholders and the public.
The unconstitutional firing of top government officials such as Ishmael Wadi, Gustave Kaliwo and Ralph Kasambara were and are still some acts of dictatorship.
The alleged emerging dictatorship of Mutharika also reared its ugly face over the past two year on issues of the economy. In one or two instances, in the past two years, government deliberately violated the Constitution by announcing that it would push ahead with its spending plans despite legislators’ refusal to debate the budget. This took place when wa Mutharika and the opposition had been at loggerheads in a row sparked by Section 65 implementation. Then Mutharika had been trying to delay the impact of the ruling.
The controversial appointment of Malawi Electoral Commissioners without consulting political parties was also another violation of the Constitution which is forming the dictatorship's basis for craving to remain in power. As stated at the onset the list is endless and it therefore came as no surprise that a year or two ago after being tired of dictatorial tendencies that human rights groups demanded Mutharika’s impeachment.
Human rights groups and a prominent lawyer charged that Mutharika had gone too far with his constitutional violations and they called for his impeachment as a lasting solution to the governance crisis rocking his administration.
The groups that drummed up for Mutharika’s impeachment were the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), the Public Affairs Committee (Pac), the Church and Society Programme of the Blantyre CCAP Synod. The HRCC went a step further by offering to finance the impeachment process. The NGOs at that time were reacting to the unconstitutional dismissals of Kaliwo and Wadi from their positions.
“The President is in no mood to meet anybody. We are also aware he does not want to listen to advice. We are convinced he is somebody who thinks because he is the President he can fire people without regard to the law,” said HRCC former chair Justin Dzonzi adding: “That he is running a minority government is a blessing in disguise, because we would have been in more trouble if he had the numbers.”
Dzodzi explained: “Therefore, the only remedy available in our situation—where a President forgets he is using delegated powers, pushes people around and breaks laws at will—is impeachment. For the sake of mother Malawi, the laws of the land and our democracy, the HRCC is ready to fund the process that will ensure this threat is removed,” he added.
But just as is the case in Zimbabwe, it seems it is not easy to remove those alleged to be dictators when there are no elections and Mutharika survived all those criticisms.--The Tribune/ AllAfrica.com
Labels: BINGU WA MUTHARIKA