"It's shameful that the UDF party wants to take us back to the dark days,"

Mr Gwanda Chakuamba (2003)

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Friday, May 18, 2007

A Moment in History - Tuesday, 22 October, 2002

Malawi opposition leader freed
MCP supporters
The MCP is the largest opposition party
The leader of the opposition in Malawi, Gwanda Chakuamba, has been released on bail.

Copy of the letter
The letter referred to bribing opposition MPs
Police arrested and charged him with criminal defamation on Sunday for allegedly writing a letter pretending that he was President Bakili Muluzi.

Mr Chakuamba's opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) dismissed his arrest as a ploy to intimidate MPs who are opposed to President Muluzi running for a third term in office.

In July, a motion to change the constitution ending the ban on more than two presidential terms of office, was narrowly defeated in parliament.


A magistrate in the capital, Lilongwe, brushed aside an appeal by the state prosecutor for Mr Chakuamba to be detained until investigations into the case were complete.

Three others, including two opposition MPs who were arrested on Monday, were also released on bail.

Gwanda Chakuamba
Chakuamba was charged with defaming the president

Last week, a letter bearing the signature of the president was distributed to all members of parliament.

It appeared to offer money to opposition lawmakers if they supported the president's bid to stay in office after 2004.

Opposition politicians on Monday condemned the arrest of Mr Chakuamba.

MCP treasurer Heatherwick Ntaba said it was an "outrage" and part of the government's attempts to intimidate the opposition.

Police spokesman George Chikowi said that Mr Chakuamba has been charged on three counts of forgery; authoring false information and defamation of the president.

"It's completely out of the question that Honourable Chikuamba could have forged the letter," Mr Ntaba said.

He also said that the police did not have the right to arrest an MP while parliament was sitting.

But Attorney General Henry Dama Phoya has said the government plans to try once more to change the laws to allow President Bakili Muluzi to remain in office.

Religious divisions

The controversial proposals to lengthen the presidential term earlier led to political violence and strains between the government and the judiciary, and caused divisions among religious leaders.

President Bakili Muluzi
Muluzi is supposed to step down in 2004

Christian leaders came out against a third term, while some Muslim groups supported it.

Mr Muluzi is a Muslim. Over 75% of Malawians are Christian.

The next presidential elections are due in 2004.

Mr Chakuamba's MCP party governed Malawi as a one-party state until multi-party elections in 1994, won by Mr Muluzi.

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