The spokesman for Malawi’s President, Bingu Wa Mutharika, has dismissed as without merit accusations that the leader is becoming autocratic and intolerant of dissent.
Mutharika has come under increasing pressure to resolve what his opponents call the country’s economic crisis. Critics blame him for failing to resolve disputes with international donors, who are withholding funds to the southern African nation.
But, Dr. Heatherwick Ntaba said Mutharika is not to blame for the country’s current fiscal and economic challenges. His comments came after former President Bakili Muluzi said he will not be intimidated by the government’s tactics following the arrest and subsequent release of his son, Atupele Muluzi, who attended a recent anti-government rally.
“Perhaps he is not too happy that his son had been arrested for disobeying the law. Perhaps he did not advise his son quite clearly,” said Ntaba. “We are not surprised that he is blaming the government and the dictatorial tendencies he is talking about…the country’s successes and achievements cannot be achieved in a dictatorial setting. So, what he is saying does not hold water on the ground.”
Ntaba said Vice President Joyce Banda postponed a scheduled rally near the capital, Lilongwe, following a police directive. He maintains that the young Muluzi should have obeyed the police directive.
“She did postpone that meeting because it was the police asking her to do that and no problems occurred there. It is the norm and she obeyed the law,” said Ntaba. “If [Muluzi] had done the same thing, no problems would have arisen. So, perhaps, the former president should look at what he advised his son to do. We are told that it was the father who told him to go on with the meeting, despite police advice.”
The younger Muluzi, who is a lawmaker and aspiring presidential candidate for the 2014 election, was charged with inciting violence. His supporters burned down a Lilongwe police unit and destroyed cars parked near the station after they clashed with security officials at last week’s anti-government rally.
Ntaba said fiscal and economic challenges the country faces have nothing to do with Mutharika’s policies.
“There are years that countries do well economically, but there are the years when economic challenges become pronounced. That is not to say their policies have failed and that is no reason to get rid of the government,” said Ntaba. “The important thing is to keep working hard, be committed to working for the government. But, going around in foreign capitals telling lies are unpatriotic and something we should move away from.”
Opposition groups and non-governmental organizations have often accused the government of silencing dissent by arresting opponents on trumped up charges. But, Ntaba rejects the accusations saying “nobody is above the law in Malawi.”
“Any law abiding [citizen], if police give you some advice on the security aspect of what you want to do, you listen, and you obey. If you don’t agree with what they are saying, then you go to court for the court to overrule what the police are telling you. But, you just don’t go ahead taking the law into your hands and do what you want,” said Ntaba.
He also said recent demands that Mutharika step down following a two-day religious meeting “are all made up by the media.”
“The board of the Public Affairs Committee [PAC] has not given any formal resolution to the president. It’s only the media writing what they think are the resolutions from PAC,” said Ntaba.