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Malawi Court to Decide Muluzi’s Come-back Bid

Malawi's constitutional court is expected to announce its decision concerning former President Bakili Muluzi's eligibility in next week's general election. The electoral commission last March barred the former president from participating in the May 19 election and future elections. The electoral body said the constitution bars the former president from participating in the elections after he served as Malawi's leader from 1994-2004. But Muluzi sharply differs with the electoral body contending that the term limit applies only to consecutive terms, adding that the constitutional provision does not apply to him.

Mandala Mambulasa is the Executive Director of the Malawi Law Society. He told VOA that the former president's come-back bid controversy would be put to rest.

"It is difficult to say, but the case can go either way. The court may decide that he is eligible and it may also decide that he is not eligible," Mambulasa said.

He said the decision of the Constitutional Court would put to rest the controversy surrounding the former president's come-back bid.

"If it (the court) decides that he is eligible to stand, then at least we would have the position of the law clarified because there has been a heavy debate in the country from the time the former president expressed his interest to stand in the elections," he said.

Mambulasa said the Malawi constitution is silent on whether a former president who has served two consecutive terms could legally come back to take over power.

"We would also know that presidents who serve two constitutional terms, they can come back after a break. So, all that debate would be put to rest," Mambulasa said.

He was skeptical of a court decision which would enable Muluzi to participate in next Tuesday's general election.

"As for the former president, I really don't see how he could be allowed to stand," he said.

Mambulasa said if Friday's decision favors the former president, it could potentially disrupt Tuesday's election.

"It would amount to putting the whole nation at ransom because of one man when there are several other candidates who can competently lead the country," Mambulasa said.

He said if the court allows the former president to participate in the May 19 election, there would be other challenges that would be created by that decision.

"Looking at the other implication, I don't know whether that would amount to the High Court sitting as a Constitutional Court, suspending a constitutional provision because the constitution is so specific that elections shall be held on 19 May," he said.

Mambulasa concurs that parliament should take a serious look at amending the constitution to be specific about term limits.

"It would be better if they clarified. And you know even the drafting itself I think was not good enough," Mambulasa said.

He said Muluzi's attorneys have argued that the constitution doesn't bar the former president participating in this and future elections.

"One of the arguments that the lawyers of the former president brought was that the constitution talks about the president and the description of the president surely cannot cover the former president," he said.

Former President Muluzi argued that the term limits apply only to consecutive terms, and that he should be allowed to run again in the May 19 general election.

But the electoral commission said it had taken into consideration the spirit of the law, which was meant to prevent presidents from holding the job for life.

Incumbent President Bingu Wa Mutharika is expected to win Tuesday's election. But the opposition alliance between the United Democratic Front (UDF) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is expected to pose a significant challenge to President Mutharika.

Soon after he was barred from this and future elections, former President Muluzi threw his weight behind MCP presidential candidate John Tembo ahead of next week's election.

Mutharika will square off with the main opposition leader John Tembo and five other aspirants, including Malawi's first woman presidential candidate, Loveness Gondwe.