In Malawi, Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee is in the process of drafting new impeachment procedures for a sitting president and his deputy. This follows a constitutional court ruling that principles of natural justice are not adequately addressed in the previous guidelines. Sources say the Committee would, in a few days, table the procedures for debate before Parliament. Observers are questioning the timing of the announcement, since they claim there is too much tension in the country at this time.
Atopele Muluzi is the chairman of Malawi’s Legal Affairs Committee. He says that ignoring the impeachment process runs contrary to the country’s constitution.
“The National Assembly in 2005 noticed that the constitution had provided for the process of impeachment to be included within the procedures of the National Assembly. Unfortunately, that was omitted. And that constitutional provision needed to be adhered to,” he said.
Muluzi said the President, Bingu wa Mutharika, challenged the impeachment process when it was introduced to remove him from office.
“When the procedures were finally drafted and presented to the National Assembly, the President had decided under presidential referral to refer the procedures to the constitutional court to determine whether the procedures were in conformity to the principles of natural justice. The constitutional court made its determination around November last year and made its recommendation that on the process of impeachment, a tribunal should be set up,” Muluzi noted.
He says the Committee is complying with the constitutional court’s ruling and would like to keep the powers of the President in check, since he believes too much power is currently held by the presidency.
“The presidency in Malawi has enormous powers. We are coming from thirty years of dictatorship. We are coming from ten years of democratic rule. We’ve never had impeachment procedures with the National Assembly. Parliament itself cannot question the conduct of the President, which is what we feel is quite unfair to the people of Malawi,” he said.
Muluzi said parliament thought it wise to have the impeachment procedures in-situ as the constitution stipulates.
“The National Assembly thought that it was important to have these procedures…Recently, we’ve seen the arrest of political opponents of the President. We have seen the arrest of the sitting President on trumped up treason charges, and there is a worry that Malawi actually is slipping back to authoritarian rule. The National Assembly have remained firm and have said it is important that we continue in oversight to check on the abuses of power,” he said.
Muluzi said the Committee is sensitive to political tensions in the country.
“The Committee is very much aware of the political climate. The intention of putting the procedures in place is not necessarily to use it against the current President. The work of the Committee as mandated by the House is to re-look and bring to the National Assembly impeachment procedures of a sitting president and a sitting vice president,” Muluzi said.
He said the Committee is composed of members of all the political parties represented in Parliament.
“The Committee do not comprise members of the opposition only. There are members of government who had voted in favor of having these procedures put in place. And what is left is to consult with all the political players,” he said.