26 May 2006

Malawi: Political Squabbles Hamper Goverance, Says Conflict Report

Lilongwe — Interparty squabbles and conflict between Malawi's two top officials have paralysed the government's ability to function at some levels, according to a conflict "barometer". The monthly report, compiled by the Forum for Dialogue and Peace, a programme run by the German Development Agency's technical arm, GTZ, was published as President Bingu wa Mutharika completed his second year in office.

"[Opposition parties] the UDF [United Democratic Front] and the MCP [Malawi Congress Party] have ganged up to exercise their political muscle in parliament by blocking legislation and policies, which have a direct and positive bearing on the lives of the people," said Felix Lombe, a conflict analyst with the forum and the author of the barometer.

Mutharika's two years in office have been conflict-ridden, largely because the opposition forms the largest bloc in parliament. Last year he survived an impeachment motion after courts restrained parliament from proceeding.

Political bickering, however, stalled a money laundering bill with implications for Mutharika's campaign against corruption. Another Mutharika project, the Malawi Rural Development Fund, designed to provide credit to poor villagers on easy terms, has also been delayed.

Now this year's budget, due to be presented in June, could be at risk following a new political crisis surrounding the arrest earlier this month of Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha on treason charges.

Mutharika was picked from political obscurity by former president Bakili Muluzi to run as the UDF's presidential candidate in 2004. Soon after winning Mutharika launched an anti-corruption campaign that touched Muluzi loyalists. The president eventually quit the UDF, still run by Muluzi, to form his own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The barometer claims Mutharika acted against Chilumpha, known to be close to Muluzi, because the vice-president had chaired a UDF meeting that discussed impeachment proceedings against him. "The relationship between the vice-president and the president should be restored through mediation," urged Lombe.

In his address to the nation on Wednesday, marking his second term in office, Mutharika held out an olive twig. "We have been divided by individuals filled with hatred, jealousy, envy and greed for power - some even want to take power from my government through unconstitutional means. Let us heal the wounds of disunity and destruction; let us unite to develop our motherland together," he said.

But Boniface Dulani, a political science lecturer at Chancellor College, said Mutharika, a former World Bank official, had reneged on his promise of good governance and the rule of law, as he been selective in dealing with corruption. "We have, in the past, seen a number of opposition members being arrested on corruption charges, while those serving in government are being spared."

Lombe said the situation was likely to stabilise "a bit, because the DPP has now managed to amass the support of half of the MPs in parliament. This, however, is not a permanent stability - it is just temporary, as these MPs who are now on the government side have started complaining that they are not being rewarded materially [through positions in the cabinet] for their support to the DPP".

While the DPP has managed to win all six by-elections it has fought, the MPs who crossed the floor to join it are still uncertain of the party's popular appeal, and could possibly withdraw their support in the 2009 general elections, Lombe commented. The MPs could also lose their seats in parliament sooner, as the constitution did not allow floor crossing. Last year Mutharika took the matter to the Constitutional Court, which called for a judicial review of the situation.

Lombe pointed out that the court should expedite its interpretation of the relevant section of the constitution to help abate some of the tension.

The barometer warned of other possible conflicts. Reports that Muluzi intended to back Jimmy Mpatsa for the 2009 elections, a UDF outsider as Mutharika had been, could create more rifts within the party.

Lombe suggested that Muluzi should retire from active politics. "UDF should have another leader, who can focus on building the party other than scoring a goal off Mutharika."

Malawi had been a one-party state since the late 1960s until domestic and international pressure forced multiparty elections in 1994, which were won by Muluzi and his UDF.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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