Frustrated by his inability to get rid of his VP, Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika has turned to the courts to solve his problem, taking a dig at Malawi’s “rushed constitution” at the same time. By SIMON ALLISON.
Bingu wa Mutharika has been trying to get rid of his vice-president since December. He expelled her from the ruling party. He scrapped her official motorcade, one of the traditional privileges of office. And he neglected to officially appoint her to his new cabinet, hoping that by freezing her out she would get the message. But because the vice-presidency is an elected position, he does not have the authority to just fire Joyce Banda, and she has resisted the intense pressure to resign.
Mutharika’s trying to pave the way for his brother, Pete Mutharika, to succeed him, but he’s finding that planning an orderly (and unconstitutional) succession is harder than he anticipated. His latest move is to ask the courts to resolve his dilemma. His legal counsel is arguing that because Banda is not attending cabinet meetings, and she’s started her own political party, her conduct represents “constructive resignation”, which would allow Mutharika to appoint a new deputy. He also said the wording of the constitution should not be taken too seriously because it was “done in a rush and doesn’t answer these questions”.
There is, however, precedent in Banda’s favour. Mutharika tried to sack his last vice-president as well, but was prevented from doing so by the court who said he had no constitutional power to do so. And given that Banda isn’t attending cabinet meetings because Mutharika didn’t appoint her to the cabinet (and took away her means of transport), and she only started a new political party because she was expelled from the ruling party, it seems likely – by law, at least – that Mutharika’s challenge will fail.
But in Mutharika’s Malawi, the word of the president is – or should be – stronger than the wording of laws. This case will be a stern test of the impartiality of Malawi’s judiciary and a test of just how far Mutharika’s pernicious influence has spread. DM
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