Political Landscape in Malawi 2011-12
Wednesday 9th January 2013
The period 2011 to 2012 Malawi went through political events which many political analysts both in the Country and abroad described as the dragging back to dictatorial style of leadership. It was also during this period that Malawi experienced the worst economic mismanagement in history as the Country was hit by shortages of fuel, forex, and inadequate provision of essential services.
Some of such political events included:
The Changing of the Republican Constitution
The ruling party at the time was The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and had the majority members in the Malawian house of Parliament which turns Government bills into laws. The DPP Government therefore took advantage of its majority in the Legislative House to change the Democratic laws of Malawi by introducing draconian laws in The Republican Constitution regardless of the rights and concerns of the citizenry. Some of such bills that were passed into laws were:
The Injunction Bill: Literally this law said that when a person was accused of any crime by Government and arrested by the police, the accused had no right to obtain an injunction before the elapsed period of 72 hours.
Police Bill: The police bill which was passed into law, gave the police all powers to invade any house or property without being granted search warrant by the court as it had been the case in the previous Governments.
Press Freedom Bill: This bill gave the minister of information and civic education the powers to close down any radio station or news paper publication which she/he deemed to have been disseminating information that might cause the breach of peace in the Country.
The expulsion of the Vice President of Malawi from the then ruling Party
The republican constitution of Malawi stipulates that the president of a political party has the powers to choose his/her running mate and together they contest with the candidates of the other parties in the general election. In this context the electorates elect the president and his/her vice (the running mate) together in the general election. The choice of the running mate has a bigger bearing in influencing the voters to elect a particular party president or not. It is therefore clearly stated in the Malawian Constitution that once the party president and his/her Vice wins the general election and are both sworn in as the State president and the vice State President, the State president has no powers to expel her/his vice.
Dr. Bingu Wa Muntharika was the president of the Democratic Progressive party (DPP) and he chose Mrs Joyce Banda to become his running mate in the general election which took place in 2009. Malawians were shocked that after about one year after winning the general election the State President Bingu Wa Muntharika expelled Mrs Joyce Banda, his Vice President from the ruling party on what many people described as baseless accusations that she was forming parallel structures within the ruling party. Most people in the Country felt the State President’s action intended to reduce the powers of the Vice President in order for him to have all the powers to himself as the Vice President could not effectively carry out her duties outside the ruling party and without cordial relationship with the State President.
The vehicles she was using as the State Vice president were taken away by the Government. Her responsibility as a goodwill ambassador for safe motherhood was stripped off her and given to the wife of the State president. The President’s wife was being paid a huge salary to the tune of MK1, 000, 000 (Then it was approximately British Pound 4000) monthly by the Government for doing this charitable work. Mrs Joyce Banda suffered a lot of humiliations by Government. She later formed her own Political Party called the Peoples Party (PP) while being the Vice President of Malawi but still in a ‘cat and rat’ relationship with the State President.
The Closure of Chancellor College
Chancellor College is one of the three constituent Colleges of The University of Malawi. The Government of President Bingu Wa Muntharika was speculating that the lecturers were during lecturing giving examples to the students which could instigate an uprising in the Country. Three law lecturers of The Chancellor College were summoned by the inspector general of police for questioning, and reports indicated that the lecturers were harassed during the questioning process. Reacting to the Government’s action, all the lecturers at The Chancellor College laid down their tools demanding an apology from the inspector general of police for his action. These academicians sworn never to go to work until the Government assured them of their freedom to education as engraved in the Republican Constitution.
The State President Bingu Wa Muntharika came in and declared at one of the Government functions that the inspector general of the Malawi Police Service was not going to apologize as demanded by the academicians. And following the presidential declaration, the University Council whose members had been appointed by the president himself closed down the Chancellor College.
Leaders of opposition Political Parties in the Country, human rights activists and any critics of the regime were arrested by police at will. The Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) and the police were used by Government as Presidential watchdogs to deal with anybody criticizing the administration.
Soaring Relationship with some Major Donor Countries
Some Foreign Countries which have been in close ties with Malawi for many years e.g. Britain, which provides a huge percentage of foreign aid to Malawi including annual budgetary support, spoke against the Government’s disrespectfulness of human rights, the erosion of democracy and the rule of law, economic mismanagement etc. Instead of listening to the issues raised by Britain, the Government of Malawi reacted by expelling the British High Commissioner to Malawi accusing him of linking wrong information to London . The U.K. retaliated by expelling the Malawian High Commissioner to Britain. The long time diplomatic relation between the two Countries soared. Even the relationship with neighboring Countries such as Zambia and Mozambique was soared too.
Frozen Aid to Malawi
The British Government froze aid to Malawi. The IMF and many other European Countries including the U.S.A stopped their aid to Malawi too.
The Zero Deficit Budget
Realizing that there was no budgetary support for Malawi from Foreign donor Countries and foreign Financial Institutions, the Government introduced what it termed ‘the Zero Deficit Budget’. The Bingu administration intended to finance all the Government programs from domestic revenues. And despite the fact that many economists spoke against the wrong timing the Government was implementing the zero deficit budget, The President and his cabinet ministers assured Malawians that the right time had come for the Country to be economically independent of foreign aid. However, the so called ‘Zero Deficit Budget’ imposed high taxes on all merit goods causing the lives of ordinary Malawians who already live in abject poverty more miserable.
The 20 Points Petition
Members of the civil society groups, the human rights activists, NGO Leaders, Leaders of different Religious groupings, Leaders of opposition political parties and representatives from the business community in Malawi constructed and presented a 20 points petition to the President. The petition was asking the president to address 20 critical problems the Country was facing i.e. shortages of water, electricity, fuel and forex, to restore soared diplomatic relations with Britain and other Countries, to reopen Chancellor College, to stop paying the first lady (the wife to the President) for doing charity work, for the President to give an explanation to Malawians on how he amassed wealth for himself in Billions when the Country’s economy was nose diving, to remove from the constitution the draconian laws his regime brought in, just to mention but a few.
The deadline given to the president to start addressing the 20 issues which were raised in the petition elapsed without any changes. On 20 July, 2011 the nation took to the streets of the three major cities of Malawi to demonstrate their displeasure with the Government’s adamant behavior of not listening to the concerns of its citizens and the continued mismanagement of political and economical affairs. Government was against the demonstrations and the police reacted by shooting live bullets at the demonstrators killing 20 people that particular day.
PAC (Public Affairs Committee) Resolution
The public Affairs Committee is a grouping in Malawi composed of members from different social backgrounds. It is an organ that contributed to the change from the one party system of Government to multiparty politics in the Country in the 1990s.
PAC organized a three days meeting under the Theme ‘Reclaiming our Rights’ as Malawi continued to face political and economical crisis. The meeting resolved to give the president of Malawi 60 days to resign or for him to call for a national referendum within a period of 90 days through which Malawians would decide whether they wanted to continue being ruled by the same regime or would decide for an early general election through which they would elect another leader. PAC followed all the official protocol to present its communiqué to the President.
Death of The President of Malawi
The President of the Republic of Malawi died of cardiac arrest early April 2012 before the elapse of 60 days ultimatum PAC gave the President to resign.
The New Government
The Malawian Constitution states that when the president is too ill that he /she can not carry out his/her duties or in an event that the president dies, the Vice president shall be sworn in as the President of the Republic. Malawians followed this constitutional order and Mrs Joyce Banda who was the vice president to the deceased, although she had been expelled from the ruling Party and had formed her own Party, the Peoples Party (PP), she was sworn in as a New President of Malawi soon after the death of Bingu was officially announced. She is the first woman to become the President of the Republic of Malawi, and the second woman in Africa to become the president of a Country after the Liberian Johnson.
The New Malawian Leader has since her ascendancy to the highest office in Malawi restored the diplomatic relations with Britain and other foreign Governments, aid to Malawi is now released, fuel started to be available. The tension that ensured in the Country between Government and Opposition political parties, Civil Society groups, NGOs is defused.
Malawi is on the road to economic recovery, however, the 50% devaluation of the local currency against the U$ that the IMF recommended to Malawi as one of the conditions to economic recovery has caused prices of essential goods to go up triple as much forcing Malawi Congress of Trade Union (MCTU) going on a vigil demanding both the Government of Malawi and Companies to increase the salaries of the civil servants and of the Companies’ employees to suit the aftermath of the devaluation. Earning a living in Malawi for an ordinary citizen is currently extra hard as prices of essential commodities are exorbitantly high. The damage to the Country’s economy during the last 12 months of the past regime was so huge that it may take a number of years to recover. In an effort to recover the Country’s economy, it seems as if Malawians are currently paying for the political and economical sins committed by the past Regime.
Report by: Hizzie Nazombe- Malawi
P. O. Box 31151, Chichiri, Blantyre 3, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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