Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika is expected to dissolve parliament Friday, setting the stage for the beginning of official campaigning for the upcoming May 19 general election expected to be hotly contested between incumbent President Mutharika and former President Bakili Muluzi. However, the former president is constitutionally barred to stand in the election after already serving two consecutive full terms as Malawi's president from 1994 to 2004. But the opposition United Democratic Front elected Muluzit to represent the party in the upcoming election, setting the stage for a constitutional controversy.
Blessing Chissinga is a political science professor at Malawi's Chancellor College in Zomba. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that the political temperature in the country is intense ahead of the election.
"The expectation is that the political parties once parliament is dissolved will go into full gear campaigning for the up and coming general election. So, any member of parliament will no longer be a member of parliament, but that gives them the opportunity to now focus fully on the campaigning process," Chissinga said.
He said there seems to be growing political tension among Malawians ahead of the general election.
"Apparently the atmosphere is very tense although last week we had an AU (African Union) mission led by the former president of Mozambique Joachim Chissano and former Ghanaian President John Kufuor trying to cool down the tension. But just a day before the dissolution of parliament, the president had already started campaigning and he did go on the offensive against the former President Muluzi. And that has created a tensed atmosphere, which I am sure is going to characterize the rest of the campaign period, giving that the stakes in this election are quite high," he said.
Chissinga said Malawians are anxiously waiting for the opportunity to exercise their franchise in the upcoming election.
"Malawians are really looking forward to the election day. I guess Malawians are kind of tired with the political immaturity that has characterized the last four years. So, basically talking to the ordinary man and woman in the street, I think they are looking forward to May 19 hoping their vote will bring the current political tension become calm after the election," Chissinga noted.
He said the Independent Electoral Commission finds itself between a rock and a hard place ahead of the May 19 election.
"The electoral commission as far as I can read the situation is in a very, very difficult situation because of two main things. One is because they misread the constitution because the constitution says that sitting MP's (members of parliament) cannot run for office. So, the mistake they did was received the presidential as well as the parliamentary nomination when parliament had not yet been dissolved, so, that was against the constitution," he said.
Meanwhile, the electoral commission is expected to soon determine the eligibility of former President Muluzi whether he can stand in this year's election. Some political analysts believe the decision could potentially plunge the country into uncertainty and possible chaos.
Chissinga said the electoral body has a herculean task in determining the eligibility of the former president ahead of the general election.
"They (electoral commission) have a very difficult decision to make about the eligibility of former President Muluzi. The constitution provides through Section 83 Subsection Three that other presidents that have served two consecutive terms should not bounce back. But the challenge here is that the wording of the constitutional provision is vague and if you literally read it, it allows presidents who have served two consecutive terms to bounce back. And up to now, they haven't made a decision as to whether former President Muluzi is eligible or not and all eyes are on the electoral commission," Chissinga pointed out.