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

Mr Gwanda Chakuamba (2003)

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Malawi court throws out legal challenge to Muluzi's third-term bid

BLANTYRE (AFP) — A court in Malawi has dismissed a legal challenge to former leader Bakili Muluzi's bid for a comeback third term as president next year, court officials said Saturday.

Judge Edward Twea, head of a three-man panel sitting at the southern African nation's highest Constitutional Court, said in his ruling, obtained by AFP, that the "issue of eligibility of the defendant (Muluzi) under the constitution has not arisen yet.

"We do agree that the controversy in the (Muluzi) party over the interpretation of the constitution is a big political risk... However, we stand firm that it is not the the duty of the court to give legal advice," Twea said.

The challenge was brought by a junior member of Muluzi's former ruling party, the United Democratic Front (UDF). James Phiri said Muluzi had served the maximum two terms from 1994 to 2004.

But the court passed responsibility for accepting or rejecting Muluzi's anticipated candidacy to the Malawi electoral commission, when nomination's close in January ahead of May presidential and parliamentary polls.

Muluzi failed in a bid to amend the constitution to allow him to stand for a third consecutive term in a 2004 poll.

While the UDF has not yet announced formally whether Muluzi is a candidate, Muluzi's lawyers said they were satisfied with the ruling and would advise their client.

Judge Twea added that the party "must rise to the occasion to separate the law from politics or vice versa. This, preferably, should be done before the nominations for 2009 general elections."

Ralph Kasambara, a former attorney general but one of the Muluzi's lawyers, told AFP: "We will cross the bridge when we get to the river."

Muluzi, who holds the influential position of chairman in his party, has launched a fervent bid to unseat his chosen successor Bingu wa Mutharika.

A convention of his party in April endorsed his candidacy.

The former president wrestled power from dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda in 1994, but flopped in his bid before the 2004 polls to extend his eligibility.

Mutharika has been at loggerheads with Muluzi since the former ditched the UDF to form his own Democratic Progress Party.

Muluzi was recently arrested but not charged over claims by the government that he was plotting to overthrow Mutharika, helped by a former head of the army.

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