The political standoff between Malawi?s President Bingu Wa Mutharika and the opposition-controlled parliament has taken a dramatic turn with the president threatening to close parliament today (Wednesday) if the budget is not approved. This comes after international donors declined to provide assistance if the political stalemate continues and the budget is not approved. This year?s budget debate should have been concluded by June 30, but the opposition refused to approve the budget unless the dispute over the alleged poaching of its members by the ruling party was resolved.

George Mtafu is the parliamentary leader of opposition United Democratic Front party. From the capital, Lilongwe he tells reporter Peter Clottey that President Mutharika?s threat is laughable.

?The threat of the president in effect is baseless because the president cannot call off parliament. The Malawi constitution states that parliament remains dissolved on the 20th of March in the fifth year after the parliamentary elections. That means that parliament is self-dissolving. There is no other authority higher than the constitution which can do that,? Mtafu said.

He explained the circumstances by which parliament could be dissolved.

?There are two or three occasions when the government or the president can call for parliament; that is at the beginning of a new session, normally it is in October, and secondly calling for the budget session, which is normally in May, June, and probably on the extra, on emergencies, then the president can call for parliament. But the dissolution of parliament is done by the constitution itself. There is no other authority which can do that,? he pointed out.

Mtafu denied the opposition-controlled parliament is refusing to approve the budget.

?The opposition is not refusing to pass the budget, the opposition is quite willing to pass the budget. The problem is that the president has only five members in the house.  The other members he has obtained them through poaching; he has stolen them from opposition parties, and this is forbidden in the Malawian context in the constitution Section 65,? Mtafu said.

He said Malawi?s constitution must be respected and protected at all times.

?The constitution prescribes that if something like that does happen then the speaker is at liberty to declare vacant (those) seats. Now a constitutional provision is meant to be obeyed and protected,? he noted.