Parliament on Monday opened debate on impeachment procedures, the first concrete step in moves to oust President Bingu wa Mutharika for allegedly violating the Constitution.
The debate in the Southern African country comes amid warnings by United Nations agencies that five million of the country's 12-million people face hunger after the worst drought in more than a decade.
"The debate on impeachment procedures is really on," said Vin Phiri, a spokesperson for Parliament. "The issue is controversial and unpredictable and I don't know how long the debate will be."
Mutharika on Saturday declared a national disaster over the food crisis, heeding calls from the opposition and church groups who pleaded for more food aid from international donors to avert a famine.
If the motion is adopted by Parliament, it would be the first time in Africa that a head of state is impeached.
Parliament's legal affairs committee, which hammered out the proposed impeachment procedures, presented a report on Friday to the country's 193 lawmakers.
A simple majority will be needed to pass the procedures, but a two-thirds majority is required to adopt an impeachment motion against the president.
Mutharika is repeatedly accused by critics of flouting the Constitution by summarily sacking senior government officials and for using public funds and resources to support his newly formed Democratic Progressive Party.
The impeachment moves started after Mutharika fell out with his mentor and predecessor Bakili Muluzi, and founded his own political party after winning elections in May last year.
Muluzi came to power in 1994 in Malawi's first multiparty elections, ending three decades of iron-fisted rule by the country's founder-president Kamuzu Banda.
The political upheaval came as international aid agencies were scrambling to bring in food aid to Malawi where the annual grain production this year totalled 1,3-million tonnes, far below the 2,2-million tonnes needed to feed the country.
Church groups have urged Parliament to set aside the impeachment proceedings to focus on the food crisis.
But Muluzi's party, the former ruling United Democratic Front, is standing firm, saying there are eight grounds for impeaching the president.
"Most of them are not serious grounds ... the impeachment process is more political than legal because it's a question of parliamentary numbers and it's Parliament which decides which are serious grounds," said political scientist Boniface Dulani.
If Mutharika is impeached, Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha, who is close to Muluzi, would assume the post of president.
According to the report on the impeachment procedures, the speaker will summon the president to appear before the House once Parliament, which sits in the capital, Lilongwe, decides to vote on a motion of impeachment.
The summons will outline the breaches of the Constitution that the president is charged with, according to the report said.
The house will then debate the motion of indictment, which can only be adopted by a two-thirds majority.
An impeachment tribunal is to be set up within 21 days after the indictment motion is passed to make a final ruling on Mutharika's fate. -- Sapa-AFP
"It's shameful that the UDF party wants to take us back to the dark days,"
Mr Gwanda Chakuamba (2003)