Landmark ruling threatens ruling party

The Constitutional Court sitting in the commercial capital, Blantyre , ruled this week that the Speaker would be acting within the law if he declared vacant seats of legislators who have crossed the floor to join other parties by ditching the parties on whose tickets they were elected.

President Mutharika led the way by defecting from the United Democratic Front (UDF) which sponsored his presidential candidature – seven months after his election – to form a new party which he called the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Several parliamentarians followed suit and came to be known as DPP parliamentarians, prompting opposition parties to petition the speaker of Parliament, Louis Chimango, to rule that the affected MPs had crossed the floor and should lose their parliamentary seats.

The opposition parties cited section 65 of the Malawi Constitution which states “”the Speaker shall declare vacant the seat of any member of the National Assembly who was, at the time of his or her election, a member of one political party represented in the National Assembly, other than that member alone but who has voluntarily ceased to be a member of that party or has joined another political party represented in the National Assembly, or has joined any other political party, or association or organization whose objectives or activities are political in nature.”

Before the speaker could rule on the petition four months ago, president Mutharika sought the intervention of the court, asking the constitutional court to rule whether dismissing MPs for changing parties was not contravening the constitution which provides for freedoms of association, assembly and expression in Sections 32, 33, 35 and 40.

The landmark ruling delivered by the constitutional court this week means the speaker can now proceed to declare vacant seats of all legislators who joined the newly formed DPP after ditching their parties.

“We will get our seats belonging to the deputy minister of Agriculture and that of the deputy minister of finance,” said a happy MCP Spokesman Nicholas Dausi, referring to two of their MPs Teddy

Kalebe and Binton Kuntsaila from MCP constituencies in Lilongwe who accepted cabinet positions without the blessings of their party. Kalebe and

Kuntsaila insist they did not leave their MCP party, despite being appointed deputy ministers.

DPP party spokesperson Wyson Mochi refused to comment.

UDF Spokesman Sam Mpasu said his party was delighted as about nine ministers would lose their seats.

“It is important for the integrity of the constitution,” he said. “Almost all the cabinet ministers will lose their seats. It is a pity.”

The Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Malawi, Nector Mhura, said the executive would be weak, if the Speaker declared those seats vacant.

“It is not possible for the MPs to go back to their respective parties to escape the verdict of the Speaker.”

November 2006
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