Malawians are reportedly breathing with a sigh of relief after the opposition-led parliament passed President Bingu Wa Mutharika's government-proposed the $1.6 billion budget. The government had blamed the opposition for deliberately stalling government developmental efforts by refusing to pass the budget. Talks on passing the budget stalled after opposition parties and President Mutharika's government clashed over section 65 of the constitution. Mustapha Hussein is a political science professor at the University of Malawi Chancellor College in Zomba. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that Malawians are expressing optimism after the passing of the budget.
"I think it is a sigh if relief and people are quite optimistic and very happy because now they are assured that government business and development activities would be progressing as was expected," Hussein noted.
He said the opposition members had options that informed their decision to approve the budget despite the protracted impasse.
"There are several schools of thought. First, others were suggesting that since 2009 is an election year, now if the budget is not passed probably the government would use that as an excuse not to hold these elections. So, for fear of not holding the elections in 2009, which probably the opposition is likely to win, it has influenced the desire to pass the budget. And secondly because of what was referred to as the political impasse, the clergy tried to mediate and it was agreed or it was proposed that the issue of the budget should concurrently be tackled together with section 65," he said.
Hussein said the clergy played a significant role in resolving the political impasse between President Mutharika's government and opposition parties.
"In their planning it was proposed that soon after the issue of the budget or once the budget has been approved, then the issue of section 65 should be tackled," Hussein pointed out.
He said the opposition would be putting pressure on the speaker of parliament to have section 65 implemented.
"Yes they (opposition) have maintained that although the elections are coming soon and they will be coming in 2009, they would still want the issue of section 65 tackled. And the main argument is that in so doing, they will be maintaining the rule of law and constitutionalism would be complied with or the spirit of constitutionalism would be upheld. So, that is their main argument," he said.
Hussein said President Mutharika's government seems to be content with the approval of the budget Thursday.
"We are yet to see the government's overwhelming reaction, but indications have shown that the government is happy and is willing to meet the demands of the opposition. There are rumors that a memorandum of understanding that emphasizes the need to tackle the issue of section 65 soon after the budget has been signed," Hussein noted.
Malawi's clergy recently held separate meetings with both the government and the opposition aimed at resolving the political impasse, which was preventing the approval of the budget.
On the 15th of June 2007, the Malawi Supreme Court granted powers to the Speaker of the national assembly to declare vacant seats of MPs (members of parliament) who defected from their parties. In this ruling, Chief Justice Unyolo pointed out that the Speaker of the national assembly could use a controversial provision to expel any MP who changed party affiliation. The judge also said that the Court's position is that section 65 is valid because it was consistent with other provisions of the constitution.
Malawians have reacted differently on this issue. Some still maintain that this constitutional provision needs to be revisited and not used this time while some argue that the speaker needs to use it during the budget sitting of parliament. Opposition United Democratic Front party (UDF) and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) were delighted with the ruling.