Malawi’s former President Bakili Muluzi is in court to defend himself after being challenged by a member of his own United Democratic Front (UDF) party over his eligibility to represent the opposition ahead of next year’s general elections. Attorneys for the former president contend that the constitution allows him to seek reelection. But Muluzi has served two consecutive terms as president, and the constitution stipulates that a leader cannot run again if he has served two consecutive five-year terms.
Some political analysts say Muluzi’s re-election bid not only runs against the spirit of Malawi’s constitution, but also signals a defeat for democracy. From the capital Lilongwe, President Muluzi’s lead attorney Fahad Assani tells reporter Peter Clottey that the constitution allows the former president to come back after handing over power to President Bingu Wa Mutharika.
“Our position is quite clear regarding the wording about the constitution, which talks of a maximum of two consecutive terms, which in our view allows a former president who has done two consecutive terms to come back after a break. And we are actually comforted a lot, of provisions for example, in many states in the United States of America where the issue of two consecutive terms feature very, very highly and where governors can serve two consecutive terms, break and then come again,” Assani noted.
He denied the former president’s comeback attempt goes against the spirit of Malawi’s constitution.
“When it comes to interpreting the constitution, we look at the actual wording, and if the wording is that it is permissive, this idea of the spirit is something which is conjecture from the minds of the people that argue against his coming back for whatever reason. But what we have in our constitution is that the courts have to interpret the words as they stand in the constitution without reading in anything else because the meaning of the section concern are so clear that you don’t have to go and look for something near to interpret the constitution,” he said.
Assani also denied the former president is motivated by his personal differences and his alleged acidic relationship with current President Bingu Wa Mutharika.
“Not at all. One thing that you have to understand is that Dr. Muluzi has been repeating this several times that it was never ever his intention to bounce back into power, but (occurred) only when he was betrayed by Dr. Mutharika leaving the party that fought for him (Mutharika), spent for him and worked so hard for him,” Assani pointed out.
He said the opposition UDF chose the former president to be its presidential candidate because he is the strongest candidate to defeat President Mutharika in the elections.
“Now, what is happening is that we are looking at the strengths of the candidates that we have. And as of now, we think that Dr. Muluzi stands a much, much better chance of defeating Dr. Mutharika at the elections because we are dealing with a president who has very little regard about the rule of law and also how the electoral systems function in the world. So, we would rather have a very strong candidate to meet a president who does not understand or who does not appreciate the rules of the game of a democracy,” he said.
Assani described as unfortunate the comparison of former President Muluzi to the late Malawi dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
“This accusation is very, very unfair. In fact, if there is any democrat in the country, he is Dr. Muluzi himself. He is a president, even during his ten years that he ruled this country, he allowed freedom of speech, allowed people to criticize him, and he could always work in order to ensure there is national consensus on issues. And he was able to bring in the provisions whenever it was necessary. He never had any dictatorial tendencies at all,” Assani noted.