Court refuses to interpret law on Muluzi’s comeback

In the law suit, Phiri, through his lawyer Christopher Chimphwanya, said the actions of the former president, who is also chairman for the United Democratic Front (UDF), have thwarted his ambitions to contest for the leadership of the party, consequently becoming presidential candidate for the party in the May 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections.

Muluzi announced last year he would contest against his successor President Bingu wa Mutharika in the forthcoming elections, with the aim of removing the current president from power as a means of settling a four-year long political enmity that started after Mutharika ditched the UDF, the party that sponsored him to power.

The former leader, who according to the Constitutional of the Republic, served his constitutional two consecutive terms, last April bull-dozed himself to be elected presidential candidate of the UDF, despite severe public disapproval and internal discontents from some senior party leaders who had hoped their time had come to lead the party.

All party heavyweights who had expressed their desire to contest for the party’s leadership at the convention withdrew from the race after Muluzi allegedly forced them to do so. However, the senior party members said they had withdrawn their candidatures out of respect for the politically powerful and chief financier of the party, which won the 2004 elections but was pushed to the opposition bench after Mutharika resigned from the party and formed his own, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The James Phiri case was seen by many, especially those campaigning against the return of the former president they accuse of plundering the nation’s wealth during his reign by tolerating corruption, as the last hope to prevent Muluzi from contesting the elections next year.

However, the court refused to be dragged into making an opinion on the matter, saying the issue concerned the UDF as a party and not the Malawi constitution, because candidates for next year’s polls were yet to present their nominations.

Justice Edward Twea, reading the ruling on behalf of two other judges, said it was the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) which had the powers to reject a candidate based on the prevailing law. The judge said it was surprising Phiri had dragged Muluzi to court when he did not contest against the former president at the party convention for the position of the party leadership.

The ruling is a huge blow to the former president, who had hoped that the ruling on the matter would clear the contentious legality of his candidature, way before the campaign time, which is two months to the election day, according to the law here.

Sources within the UDF said in interviews with The Southern Times that the ruling places the party at a disadvantage because in the event that the electoral body decides to disqualify Muluzi, there would not be much time to market an alternative candidate five months away to the crucial elections.

Muluzi’s lawyers, led by Ralph Kasambara, said they were satisfied with the ruling while lawyer for Phiri said he would appeal against the ruling.

Many people view Muluzi’s actions as a demonstration of greed, arguing that the former leader had always wanted to rule beyond the constitutional provision of two-five year terms. Towards the end of his second term in office in 2003, he tried to amend the constitution so that he could rule for another term. Parliament rejected the amendment by just a mere three votes.

He then handpicked the politically unknown Mutharika to lead the party against severe objections from other senior party members, hoping that his heir to the throne would be a puppet, which never was.

The legal battle for his legibility might be over for now, but several NGO leaders have vowed to drag the former leader back to to court in the event the electoral body accepts his candidature. Most NGO leader whom The Southern Times spoke to last week said they would not accept to see Muluzi rule the country again against the constitutional provisions.

August 2008
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