Misanet.com / afrol News / The Chronicle, 7 July - While Malawi's independent newpaper 'The Chronicle' hails the "defeat of dictatorship" as a result of Parliament's rejection of a third term for President Bakili Muluzi, it is disappointed with opposition MPs voting for the constitutional amendment. Observers agreed that opposition MPs had accepted money to vote the way they did.
- The ruling United Democratic Front's (UDF) normal tactic of using cash inducements to obtain favour or acceptance, developed over the last 8 years of UDF rule has not paid dividends this time round with the 'astounding' rejection of the 'Open Term' amendment, 'The Chronicle's' Joseph Ganthu writes.
A cross section of Malawians who were randomly invited by 'The Chronicle' to comment on the issue intimated that it was because of the UDF practice that there was such a narrow win for democracy. MPs, they said were mostly willing to be corrupted because of poverty.
- The blame must be put squarely at the feet of John Tembo of the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Chakufwa Chihana, said Lameck Mbuto, working near the Lilongwe City Council offices in Old Town. He was visibly annoyed at the two opposition leaders saying that they must "have received a lot of money" to vote for the amendment.
A cooked nuts vendor, Lucy Chibanje from Chigwirizano Township who listened in on the conversation agreed and added: "I hope now that the amendment has failed that the UDF demands their money back. Where will these people get it from with so much poverty around?"
Statistics indicate that most of both John Tembo and Chakufwa Chihana's followers, who had all along been loyal to the two leaders had openly voted against the "Life Presidency Bill". Out of the 33 MCP MPs that were present and who pledge loyalty to John Tembo, 17, or more than 50 percent challenged the assumption that they would vote alongside their leader for dictatorship. The Gwanda Chakuamba loyalists also voted on principle with 15 percent voting in favour of the amendment and 85 percent rejecting the proposal.
Not surprisingly, the UDF had mustered the support of all their MPs to vote in favour of President Muluzi being given an opportunity to contest once again as president. There were no dissenters or even abstainers. The party was even able to bring into the house the sick MP for Thyolo South, Henry Mlaliki. Mlaliki had been largely ignored by the party after he had suffered a stroke. He has been accused of supporting the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of the now independent Brown Mpinganjira.
Mlaliki, looking extremely weak and wane was wheeled into the parliament building to declare his position and remove any doubts that his party might have had about where his loyalty lay. It was extremely difficult to determine if he was strong enough to follow, never mind contribute to the lengthy debate which did not even break for lunch. His response, when he did speak out was hardly audible.
After raising his hand in frustration for more than an hour to debate on the bill, MP for Mchinji North East, Chikoti Kumbuyo started the UDF collapse when he was allowed to speak after more than 10 members of parliament from both the ruling and opposition had all spoken in support of the bill. Some observers at the time viewed this as a calculated attempt meant to demoralise those against the amendment.
The opposition side was incensed when several MPs from both opposition parties - AFORD and the MCP - were allowed, one after the other to speak strongly in support of the amendment to the bill. Life and hope was rekindled by MP Kumbuyo when he was allowed to speak. Rather than continue in the same sycophantic manner the MP openly and courageously objected to it.
- I am here, not to please any individual or myself, but I want to tell you that the people I am representing from my constituency are totally against this bill, he said, to the surprise of the rebel MCP camp. Chikoti Kumbuyo added that he too, as an MP made his decision based on historical facts. He indicated that he would not like to see Malawi return to the one party state, a situation that they all fought against in 1993.
Also reviving the back benchers who had all but despaired,, MP Ian Mkandawire declared: "It is only a dog that can eat what it has vomited." He likened the 4th of July, 2002 debate to the 1971 scenario in which a certain Member of Parliament from Nkhata Bay had proposed a similar bill that led to the Life Presidency of the late ex-President Kamuzu Banda.
Chikoti said he wished the State President, as a respected statesman in the SADC region would be like South Africa's Nelson Mandela who spent time grooming a successor rather than holding on to power. He also cited neighbouring countries like Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique where democracy has worked very well on such an issue of a president's office.
On the government side, all the MPs who stood up to contribute to the debate without exception spoke in support of the amendment.
Opposition to the amendment was further fuelled by MP Kala Mtonga, who stood up and frankly told the House that although he loves the leader of AFORD, Chihana, he was not going to support him on the amendment. Mtonga warned that if government did not conduct adequate consultations with the general public when tabling important matters of national concern then it is in danger of losing power.
MP Lulilo Mwamondwe when given an opportunity to speak alleged that opposition MPs who had supported the amendment to the constitution had received money from the UDF at the expense of the electorate in their constituencies.
The bill was defeated by the narrowest of margins. The 125 votes in favour were 3 short of the 2/3rds needed to amend the Republican Constitution. The President has since declared that he would stand by the decision of parliament and asked the people of Malawi to reconcile their differences. He indicated that he would not hold any grudges against anyone who spoke against the amendment and would not seek vengeance for negative remarks made against him personally.
Speaking on the BBC on Friday, Muluzi was quick to dispel fears that he was bitter about parliament's decision, saying that he was now looking forward, in two years time to spend more time with his family.
Based on an article by Joseph Ganthu (The Chronicle)