Back in 1992 or was it 1993 when Malawi’s current Constitution was being resisted there was debate on a number of issues. One hot issue was about whether or not a person with a criminal record could stand as a Presidential candidate.
Because one of the potential candidates was a former convict, the final phrasing was such that it both barred and allowed former convicts to stand as presidential candidates. It was tailored to accommodated a particular individual. What is a criminal record after all, people do get reformed. The rest is history, 10 years of plunder.
Another incidence of tailoring took place when the UDF discovered that it was having problems in passing legislation in Parliament. The party explored ways of removing the deficit and decided that the best way was to bring Aford into government.
But this had to be attractive to Aford. Bakili Muluzi appointed Chakufwa Chihana Second Vice President. A bill was introduced to amend the Constitution to create the office of the Second Vice President so as to regularise a hitherto unconstitutional appointment. The combined votes of UDF and Aford ensured that the amendment went through. Politics, yes. Tailoring, yes.
The framers of the Constitution foresaw the possibility that in a multiparty arrangement, MPs elected on the ticket of one party might, for one reason or another, want to shift allegiances. So, they put in place a provision on crossing the floor. Any MP elected on the ticket of a party represented in Parliament who decides to join another party also represented in Parliament, would automatically lose his or her seat.
You will recall ladies and gentlemen, that when the Aford President, Chakufwa Chihana, decided to end his alliance with the UDF, suddenly there emerged on the political scene, independent parliamentarians. The late Mapopa Chipeta and the late Matembo Mzunda, among others, declared themselves independent and thus defeated the provision of crossing the floor. The MCP also lost MPs who became independents.
At that time this suited the UDF perfectly. Ladies and gentlemen these are historical facts, not abstract constructions. During the second term of the UDF the provision suddenly became inadequate when Brown Mpinganjira and others declared themselves independent and went on to establish the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) pressure group. This is when the UDF decided time for more tailoring was ripe. They proposed an amendment. Crossing the flow should include those joining any group that is political in nature they said.
The 1999-2004 Parliament also tried to tailor the Constitution to then incumbent President to allow him to stand for another term of office. The idea was that a President could stand for as long as he or she wished. Limiting the Presidential term, it was argued, was tantamount to interfering with the right of people to choose a person of their choice. The tailoring failed. It was refined to become a third term of office, now even more tailored to the incumbent, the tailor had not stitched the garment properly and the proposed amendment fell through.
Now the current move is to tailor the Constitution to the liking of the opposition. The reasons are as tragic as they immature and immoral. The Malawi political scene has never been so tragically dramatic. Most people who have followed Malawian politics during the second term of the self-acclaimed political engineer, particularly during the open term and third debates, should be conversant with what the real issues are. In case you are in doubt, it is about controlling Malawi’s meagre donor-supported purse. Motivations for controlling the purse differ.
As one commentator put it recently in one of the papers, for 10 years, Malawi’s Parliament never thought of putting in place procedures for impeaching a President but suddenly this has become the most important issue. The reasons are well documented. For those who might not be aware, they revolve around the desire to remove an “ungrateful” President.
A President who has not rewarded those who sang songs of praise. A President who thought time for ministerial Christmas was over. For some, a President that robbed their party of victory even after practically bagging all seats in the Central Region. Imagine the frustration!
Opposition MPs are debating procedures for impeaching a President. As many people have observed, nothing wrong with that. Parliament has the mandate to do that and there is need to do so. There are some theories being floated around on the impeachment.
One I find particularly interesting is that which looks at the relationship between the UDF and the MCP as some Tom and Jerry arrangement. Who will be the ultimate loser. There has to be one. Both cannot win. One will be used as a stepping stone in the whole impeachment process. The impeachment itself also being a means to an end.
The UDF have made the impeachment attractive for the MCP. John Tembo will be President for six months. For someone who has nursed a lifelong ambition to be President that sounds like peanuts. For the UDF, still nursing a hung-over of plunder, that appears overly generous.
What will prevent the UDF, observers say, from sponsoring a concerned citizen who will challenge the amendment in court as having been unnecessary. The Constitution, after all, already provides that in the event of the President leaving office, the Vice President would take over. If such an action succeeded in court, UDF’s Cassim Chilumpha becomes President. The UDF is back in power. Fasten your seat belts, we are flying straight into a tornado.
What happens when JZU assumes the six months Presidency. Well, while the “concerned” citizen’s case is being battled out in court, you know how long these cases take, JZU will be marshalling the forces that have served him so well for over 30 years and the UDF might find itself out of power forever.
There is a circus unfolding in Malawi and this circus is revolving around the very important issue of removing a head of state through impeachment. It is a circus because it is difficult to find convincing answers to questions surrounding the impeachment. Should our impoverished country really be subjected to two elections in 22 months when there are so many other pressing issues which need Parliament’s attention?
Should we again be thinking of lining up to vote one year and four months after we faithfully voted just because Gwanda Chakuamba needs a BMW and to be Number 3? Should we be kicked around like footballs because the President broke his promise to make a certain Malawian a government minister or because the MCP wants universal fertiliser subsidy which will ultimately benefit large estate owners?
Let us stop this tailoring. Tailor-made garments are expensive!
"It's shameful that the UDF party wants to take us back to the dark days,"
Mr Gwanda Chakuamba (2003)