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Malawi Law Society Wants Ex-President’s Eligibility Decided Ahead of Election


Malawi's Law Society is asking the country's Electoral Commission to determine the eligibility of Ex-President Bakili Muluzi ahead of next year's general elections. The commission has so far declined to decisively deal with the former president's candidacy, claiming it would make its decision when nomination papers are filed in January. But the Law Society contends that the electoral body's refusal or delay in determining the former president's eligibility to contest as the presidential candidate for the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) could plunge the country into crisis.

Muluzi has already served two consecutive terms as Malawi's president, but his supporters say he is qualified to contest next year's elections. The UDF also accused the law society of being biased and partisan. Samuel Tembenu is the president of Malawi's Law Society. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from the commercial capital, Blantyre that the group's action is in the nation's interest.

"The rationale is simple, what we want is to have clean elections next year. From what has been happening in this country and the debate that has been going on, it is very clear that Dr. Muluzi wants to stand again. Now, the question of his eligibility is still hanging in the air because we have two views. Others say he is barred from standing again, but others think he can still come back. So, we are saying that it is about time that question is determined now rather than later so that come 2009, the focus would be on the electoral process, and not on court injunction," Tembenu noted.

He described as untoward the opposition UDF accusation leveled against the law society.

"Well, I think we are not biased because we have tried to be as objective as possible in that statement, and all we are trying to do is to help them. But instead of running around in 2009 looking for candidates in the event that the electoral commission says no you cannot come back, they should rather know their stand now. Likewise in the event that the commission says yes you are eligible and somebody challenges you… all we are trying to do is to avoid chaos that would ensue in the event that the electoral commission makes a decision one way or the other. But it not true that we are being partisan," he said.

Tembenu said the Law Society has been neutral in its dealings with the country including internal politics.

"As a society we have not taken a stand on this issue because we know that our members belong to various parties, and they are representing the parties that are involved as well. So, we have left it to our members to argue their cases in their respective cases; those who are for would argue for Muluzi those who are not would argue their side. As a society, we have not taken any side and it is not our intention to take a stand on that issue," Tembenu pointed out.

He said the time for the electoral commission to take a decision on the former president's eligibility is now.

"We want them to act as soon as possible, and if possible before the end of the year. We hope so, but we couldn't tell how soon they (electoral commission) would act. But I think there is still hope and we expect that they will act immediately," he said.

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