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Malawi Parliament Inching Closer to Impeachment of President

Malawi's parliament this week moved a step closer to a motion of impeachment against the country's president, by adopting rules to govern the impeachment process.

It is the United Democratic Front, the party that last year brought President Bingu wa Mutharika to power that is now seeking to impeach him. In February, Mr. wa Mutharika fell out with the UDF, and particularly its leader, former president Bakili Muluzi, after launching an anti-corruption drive. He resigned from the party and started his own, the Democratic Progressive Party.

Malawi's parliament is now dominated by opposition parties, primarily the UDF, headed by Mr. Muluzi, and the Malawi Congress Party led by John Tembo. Mr. Tembo has declined to say whether or not his party will support a motion to impeach the president.

The motion is likely to be based on Mr. wa Mutharika's resignation from the UDF, which brought him to power and on charges that the UDF used state funds to fund his election campaign. Ayesa Kajee of the South African Institute of International Affairs, says that legal experts in Malawi questions whether the impeachment will stand up to legal scrutiny.

"Well both the Malawian law society and the Malawian law commission have indicated that they feel there are insufficient grounds for impeachment," she said.

Mr. wa Mutharika was handpicked by Mr. Muluzi to succeed him, but soon after coming to power in May 2004, Mr. wa Mutharika announced what he called a zero-tolerance anti-corruption drive. He replaced the Director of Public Prosecutions who he said was failing to act against high profile politicians, Mr. Muluzi included, suspected of corruption.

Ms. Kajee says that corruption was so pervasive in Mr. Muluzi's administration, especially during his second term of office, that she categorized it as a kleptocracy, or rampant greed and corruption. She says that money from almost all government tenders, a major school building project, and even debt relief, found its way back to government officials from Mr. Muluzi on down.

"For example, many of the debt relief endeavors that happened under the highly indebted poor country initiative, the funds that were freed up from that initiative were actually meant towards pro-poor expenditure - yet in examining the budgets between 2000 and 2003, it is quite evident that some of those funds at least, were channeled toward the executive, towards presidential expenses which nobody ever accounted for," explained Ms. Kajee.

This week the Anti-Corruption Bureau ordered Mr. Muluzi summoned Mr. Muluzi to appear next week to answer allegations of corruption involving $12 million in funding from Taiwan, Libya and other countries.