afrol.com / AENS, 25 January - Malawi President Bakili Muluzi today denied weeks of public speculation that he intended changing the country's constitution and running for a third term in office in 2004. Malawi information minister and chief government spokesman, Clement Stambuli, said Muluzi would honour existing constitutional restrictions limiting presidents to two consecutive five-year terms.
Stambuli tried last week to defuse growing civil society opposition to Muluzi's possible re-election by telling national radio that speculation was premature.
- The ruling United Democratic Front, of which Muluzi is president, has also just reviewed its own internal constitution to include the same limitation. We would not do this if there were plans for Muluzi to run for a third term as national president, said Stambuli.
The denials contradict public statements a string of senior UDF leaders, including Blantyre mayor John Chikakwiya, who told a rally that Muluzi would seek re-election despite criticism from opposition parties and local human rights watchdogs.
UDF parliamentarian Elwin Maluwa added that the party was already preparing a notion to change the constitution, and insisted Malawi's electorate should be allowed to democratically decide whether they wanted Muluzi for a third term.
Stambuli declined to comment, but added on Thursday that the UDF would soon convene its first national convention in six years to "iron out problems that have been dogging us".
Stambuli declined to specify the problems but senior party members told African Eye News Service there was widespread dissatisfaction at Muluzi's ousting of former transport minister Brown Mpinganjira's from government and the UDF.
Mpinganjira, who was viewed as a contender for Muluzi's position, was axed from cabinet after being charged with criminal complicity in a US$2 million tender scam last year. He was, however, acquitted by the country's High Court on January 16 due to a lack of evidence, and is focusing on building his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) lobby group against "bad governance".
Mpinganjira claimed on Thursday that he was framed for openly opposing attempts to change the constitution, and for criticising suggestions that Muluzi be allowed to serve a third term.
By Brian Ligomeka,