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Malawi Government Faces Budget Showdown with the Opposition in Parliament

Malawi opposition parties describe President Bingu Wa Mutharika’s threat to dissolve parliament today if the opposition fails to pass this year’s budget a “complete arrogance of power.’’ Opposition parties say Mutharika’s threat is unlawful and should be condemned in no uncertain terms. Some Malawians are reportedly worried the ongoing political impasse between the government and the opposition would undermine the government’s developmental agenda and the inflow of donor funds essential for sustaining the country’s economy. Some political analysts say President Mutharika’s latest threat would undermine peace negotiations between his administration and the opposition, which are being mediated by Malawi clergy. George Mtafu is the leader of the opposition United Democratic Front in Malawi’s parliament. From the capital, Lilongwe, he tells reporter Peter Clottey that it would be impossible for parliament to pass the budget today.

“The president has no right whatsoever to suspend or adjourn parliament. That authority lies in the hands of the speaker. The president can prorogue parliament, in which case he would be proroguing (suspending) parliament for the second time after the first prorogation on September 14 last year. It will be extremely unconstitutional and undemocratic. It would mean that we are sliding back into an era of another dictatorship or a fascist dictatorship and that would be very sad for the young democracy in Malawi,” Mtafu pointed out.

He said President Mutharika would be mistaken if he expects the budget to be passed today.

“Technically it would be absurd to expect parliament to pass a budget only one day today on Friday because on Fridays, we meet only in the morning half day, from 9:30 to 12:30, and I don’t know how a budget can be passed in that short space of time,” he said.

Mtafu dismissed accusations that the opposition is dismissing government projects as propaganda in an effort to stifle their passage by diverting attention.

“Such talk is actually empty talk. The constitution is the supreme law of any country, and when the constitution actually dictates that we do A, B, C then you do it. Since 2004 up to the present, the opposition has always supported the budget. This time as well, we are in support of the budget. But what we want is that a law, which has been broken, must be invoked. And it is that invocation of the law, which is causing so much headache for President Bingu Wa Mutharika,” Mtafu noted.

He said the opposition would resist any threats by President Mutharika to force them to approve the budget today.

“Count is for real that the budget cannot pass today. So, President Bingu Wa Mutharika has two options: either he prorogues the house he cannot sustain or adjourn it. That is actually the duty of the speaker. But for him to expect that the budget can pass today, that is out of this world. It is out of the question,” he said.

Mtafu said the president’s threat is dangerous to efforts for solving a political impasse between the government and the opposition.

“Don’t forget that we have in between called for a mediation. And there is a team of eminent clergymen who are actually looking at these things. And they have made a proposition of an agreement, which we are looking at,” Mtafu pointed out.