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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Bishops warn on Sec 65
14:39:33 - 29 June 2007

Catholic bishops have released a statement expressing fear that the aftermath of Section 65 could wipe out the gains that have been achieved by a maturing democracy in Malawi.

But opposition political parties have disagreed with the bishops, asking them not to interfere in legal matters, urging them instead to concentrate on their work on the pulpit.

The Catholic bishops ask for a suspension of the implementation of Section 65 and sobriety in its handling in order to avoid jeopardizing the development agenda of this country, a statement signed by Archbishop Tarcizio Ziyaye, Chairman of Episcopal Conference of Malawi, said Thursday.

“We are concerned with the mixed reactions and debate that are taking place in political and media circles. Uncertainty, fear of the future and tension, as a result, have engulfed our Mother Malawi.

“Issues like calling for by-elections, the resignation of the State President, the impeachment of the President and his vice, the impeachment of the Speaker of Parliament, if implemented, will wipe out the gains that have been realized through our maturing democracy,” Ziyaye said.

Recent reports have said that opposition parties United Democratic Front (UDF) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP are planning to, among other things, impeach President Bingu wa Mutharika, his deputy Cassim Chilumpha and Speaker of Parliament Louis Chimango following the ruling on Section 65 that it is valid.

But the bishops appeal for dialogue on the matter and call upon Malawians to exercise responsibility.

They say they fear that the Section 65 aftermath would derail all arms of government from their development agenda and adversely affect the gains achieved by the debt cancellation.

“The legislature and the executive will shift their focus from economic and developmental policies to matters of politicking and survival to the detriment of the poor masses,” the bishops say.

“Should we not wait to allow sobriety to rule in our hearts rather than jeorpadise the development agenda that wants to promote sustainable livelihoods of the poor?”

However, UDF and MCP, both of whom have petitioned the Speaker to declare the seats of ‘their MPs’ who are in government vacant, appealed to the clergy to stay clear from politics and allow the Supreme Court ruling to prevail in Parliament.

“Any court ruling benefits one side or the other. To say the implementation of the ruling should wait is to deny one side justice. And justice delayed is justice denied,” UDF Leader in the House George Mtafu said yesterday.

He said the UDF was unhappy with the bishops’ action, saying the clergy in the country tend only to criticize the opposition especially UDF and not government or the President when the latter are wrong.

He said the UDF and MCP have been very lenient on the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), arguing they have passed the national budget since 2004 with their majority numbers in the house.

On its part, MCP accused the bishops of taking sides on political matters, saying the party was disappointed with their conduct.

“When government is breaching the law in this country, the Catholic Bishops never say anything. This smacks of hypocrisy on the part of the church in this country and their ideas are jaundiced.

“When MPs were crossing the floor, their constituents were terribly disappointed and the Catholic Bishops were quiet. They chose to bury their heads in the sand when it suited them,” MCP spokesperson for parliamentary affairs Ishmael Chafukira said Thursday.

Muslims Association of Malawi (MAM) Secretary General Sheikh Imran Shareef Mahomed said the feared consequences of Section 65 would be temporary.

“If we are not to implement Section 65, we’re going to kill the democracy that we fought for. We as Muslims don’t see any danger in Section 65. If those people who crossed the floor are popular, they will come back,” Mahomed said.

Chairperson of Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), an umbrella for human rights NGOs, said much as they were still carrying out consultations with their members on the issue, they “generally” shared the concerns of the bishops.

But Dzonzi said HRRC was mindful that politicians who quit their political parties and joined others in Parliament were the ones responsible for the political tension that has gripped the country.

“It would be naive to pretend that this mess has not been created by the politicians,” Dzonzi said

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