Mutharika threatens to dissolve parliament
Mutharika has also threatened to run the country for the next two years, up to 2009, when Malawi shall hold general elections, without a national budget.
But constitutional lawyers and the opposition have said Mutharika would be violating the country’s constitution if he goes ahead and dissolve the National Assembly and calls for early general elections or run government without the national budget.
Speaking at Masintha Ground in Lilongwe last weekend, when he held a mass rally, Mutharika warned the opposition, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and United Democratic Front (UDF) that he would use powers invested in him to call for early elections in order to seek a fresh mandate from people.
The president pointed out that MCP, which is led by John Tembo, and UDF, led by former head of state Bakili Muluzi, would not get enough seats to form the majority which ‘they are now using to frustrate government business”.
‘I want the budget to be passed tomorrow and nothing else. Thereafter, we can discuss
‘Section 65 . . . what the opposition want to do is to remove the 90 MPs from the government side and move the impeachment motion. Wait for 2009,’ he said.
Mutharika said he could not go on kneeling before the opposition to pass the budget, warning that he could still run the government effectively and efficiently even if the budget were not passed.
With one hand banging the table which held the microphone, Mutharika said: ‘They (the opposition) can put on hold the budget but still I will run the government this year and next year . . . I’ve got the powers to do so. This budget is for the people of Malawi. I’ve been quiet for a long time, but enough is enough.’
But reacting to Mutharika’s outbursts, constitutional lawyer Justin Dzonzi, the chairman of the Malawi Human Rights Consultative Committee, said the the country’s constitution did not provide for early elections.
He said the only way in which the country could hold early elections is for Parliament to amend the constitution to provide for early elections.
Dzonzi also said the Malawi Constitution clearly stipulates that the Executive cannot withdraw money from the Consolidated Fund without Parliament’s authorisation.
He said the constitution gives government powers to withdraw money from the Fund for running government in the absence of a budget, for only a maximum of four months with National Assembly’s authorisation too.
‘There has to be a budget. I don’t think the opposition can say no to the budget. But the president and government are trying to paint a picture that the opposition want to say no to the budget,’ said Dzonzi.
Leader of UDF in Parliament George Ntafu said Mutharika should realise that government cannot spend without the authorisation by Parliament.
‘The government cannot spend a single tambala without the authorisation of the National Assembly,’ said Ntafu.
Spokesperson for MCP on parliamentary affairs Ishmael Chafukira said the national budget cannot be passed ‘tomorrow only’, adding that the opposition expects Gondwe to ask for a supplementary budget during the sitting that resumed Monday.
Government financial year ends on June 30.
‘We in the opposition are equally worried that the budget is not yet passed and this could affect the next planting season in terms of procurement of fertilizer,’ said Chafukira.
Former head of state and UDF chairman Bakili Muluzi upon arrival from United Kingdom last week dismissed Mutharika’s fears for impeachment, saying his party had never discussed the issue even with political bedfellows MCP.
Muluzi told Mutharika that his party was set for 2009 elections.
Meanwhile, efforts by government to push for budget deliberation in the National Assembly continue facing a huge problem after the opposition on Tuesday put their foot down saying unless an injunction obtained by government restraining Speaker of the National Assembly Louis Chimango from evoking section 65 on the 90 government MPs is lifted, the House would not discuss anything to do with the national budget.
Muluzi handpicked Mutharika in 2003 as his successor ahead of top UDF leaders in former UDF first vice president Aleke Banda, state vice president Justin Malewezi and Harry Thomson, among others. Mutharika dumped UDF in February 2005 and formed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which saw several UDF MPs defecting to join the DPP.
Section 65 of the Malawi Constitution bars MPs, ushered into National Assembly through a particular political party, from associating with any other grouping deemed to be political in nature.
Meanwhile, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has said it is ready to conduct by-elections as soon as the Speaker of the National Assembly declares vacant seats of MPs who would be affected by the ruling on section 65.
In an interview in Lilongwe, MEC commissioner Emmanuel Chinkwita Phiri said as soon as the Speaker declares vacant seats of some MPs caught on the wrong side of the law, MEC would come up with a calendar of how the by-elections would be done.
‘We are mandated to conduct elections every time need arises and we are ready to conduct by-elections within 60 days after the Speaker declares any seats vacant,’ he said.
However, Chinkwita Phiri observed that at the moment the only problems that MEC is facing include the inadequate number of commissioners and the need to amend the constitution to allow MEC conduct elections outside the constitutionally provided period.
‘Currently there are only three of us but the law requires commission decisions for activities in each of the phases of the process,’ Chinkwita said.
According to MEC spokesperson Fegas Lipenga, every constituency where a by-election would be required, would need a minimum of 10 million Malawi kwacha.