A group of civil society and non-governmental organizations in Malawi expressed disappointment over former president Joyce Banda’s refusal to hand over power in a peaceful and symbolic gesture to newly installed President Peter Mutharika.
Billy Mayaya, a leading member of the Malawi Civil Society groups, says Banda’s action showed lack of leadership. He also said it’s a missed opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Malawi remains united in spite of the existing political differences and the controversy surrounding the outcome of last month’s tripartite elections.
“One of the symbolisms is showing commitment to nation building. Her refusal sends wrong signals to various stakeholders in that she was maybe bitter with her loss, and I think that does not augur well with an emerging democracy like Malawi,” said Mayaya.
President Mutharika was also disappointed that the former president turned down the opportunity to hand over power to him.
In his speech shortly after his inauguration Monday, local media quoted Mutharika as saying, “I regret that my predecessor has declined to come here to hand over power to me… I was looking forward to shake her hands and bury the past. I came with olive branch to my branch. I ask everybody in joining me to rebuild Malawi. I have no intention of vengeance but those who have broken the law will face the full course of justice.”
Tusekele Mwanyongo, a spokesman for the former president, said Banda was not constitutionally mandated to hand over power or participate in the inauguration. Mayaya disagreed.
“People are placing a stress on symbolism, symbols of handing over democratically to a successor,” said Mayaya. “And lack of those symbolisms is a source of concern to civil society, because it sends the wrong signal in terms of nation building.”
But the Malawi Law Society (MLS) says former president Banda could not be legally compelled to hand over power to the newly elected leader.
Selisa Kilemba, spokesperson for the MLS says Banda was within her rights not to show up at Mutharika’s inauguration.
“Legally, she was not obliged to go there and do the hand over,” Kilemba said. “However, symbolically it would have been very good for the country for her just to go as a goodwill gesture and go and wish professor Mutharika all the best, and ceremoniously hand over. It would have symbolized quite a lot for the country. It would have shown unity, showed at least that she has accepted this and she is willing to move forward.”
Malawi’s Electoral Commission declared Peter Mutharika of the opposition Democratic People’s Party (DPP) winner of the presidential vote with over 36 percent of the total votes cast, defeating Malawi Congress Party candidate Lazarus Chakwera with about 29 percent. Ruling People’s Party (PP) led by former President Joyce Banda was a distant third with 20.2 percent.
Several African heads of state and government including Malawi’s former president Bakili Muluzi were present at Mutharika’s installation at the Kamuzu Banda stadium.
Clottey interview with Billy Mayaya, Malawi Civil Society group's member
Clottey interview with Selisa Kilemba, Malawi Law Society Spokesperson