THE handover of power, in any country and especially after the death of a sitting president, is a critical moment.
Depending on how the transition is handled, it can spell gloom or glory for a country.
Malawi is one country which has managed to go through this transition, at least, smoothly and it should be commended for this.
This peaceful transition of power could not have come about if modalities for handover of power were not well spelt out in the country’s constitution.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) in Malawi, standing on the strength of their constitution, urged then Vice-President Joyce Banda to take over the presidency despite a plan by Government to use unconstitutional means to install late Mutharika’s brother, Peter, as President.
The CSOs, the United States of America and former Malawian President Bakili Muluzi stood against government, demanding that it abides by the provisions of the constitution which spells out what happens when the office of president falls vacant.
Mr Muluzi, in his appeal, when he addressed journalists at his residence, said the laws of the country were very clear and it was automatic for Mrs Banda, 62, to take over as President of Malawi and she would remain in power until 2014 when the next elections take place.
According to press reports, Mr Muluzi said: “We have to avoid a situation where there is disorder. Let us follow the constitution. We have no choice but to follow the constitution. It’s very important that there must be peace and calm.”
Mr Muluzi, in his address, called for “constitutional order” so that peace and order could prevail in the nation that Dr Mutharika had ruled.
Dr Mutharika first came to power in 2004 and he was re-elected in 2009.
He served as a World Bank economist and later ascended to the helm of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
The constitution of Malawi provides for the vice president to take over the presidency in the event that a sitting president dies in office.
Article 83 (4) of the constitution states : “Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of President, the First Vice-President shall assume that office for the remainder of the term and shall appoint another person to serve as First Vice-President for the remainder of the term.”
This is the position that was backed by civil society groups that called for a constitutional transition of power.
Executive director of the Civil Society Education Coalition, Benedicto Kondowe, said from the constitution, it was clear that Mrs Banda, as vice-president, assumes power up to the end of the presidential term.
Mr Kondowe said there was no law that allowed the ruling party, the DPP, to manoeuvre and Malawians were not ready for any attempt at bending the constitution.
The constitutional succession in Malawi has made the country a shining example of democracy in southern Africa and probably saved the country from turmoil if the decision to ascend to power had been unconstitutional.
The constitutionality of the decision lies in the fact that the country’s highest law states that the vice-president shall become the next president in case of an eventuality.
It states, “The First Vice-President shall be elected concurrently with the President and the name of a candidate for the First Vice-President shall appear on the same ballot paper as the name of the presidential candidate who nominated him.”
This means that a candidate to the office of vice-president is subjected to an election at the same time as a presidential candidate, giving the two candidates a direct mandate from the electorate.
A running mate is chosen from a presidential candidate’s political party and together, the two men are supposed to make a formidable team that will bring triumph in the elections.
It is a practice in some countries, during voting, that the name of a vice presidential candidate appears on the same ballot paper as that of the presidential candidate who nominated him.
It can be deduced from this arrangement that every vote given to a presidential candidate in an election goes to the vice presidential candidate as well.
This, therefore, may mean that, when a presidential election takes place in Zambia, all names of candidates who contest the presidential seat will be paired with their running mates on the same ballot paper so that voters cast their votes for both candidates. From this arrangement, it should be noted that a vice-president is not one who has come second among presidential candidates in an election.
An example of a country that practises this system of voting for a vice presidential candidate is the United States of America. The Kenyan constitution has similar provisions [Articles 146 (2) (a) and 148 (1) and (2)].
At the moment, the world is waiting to hear the US presidential challenger Mitt Romney nominate a running mate in readiness for the presidential election due on November 6 this year.
Republican candidate Romney has begun his search for a running mate and voters are eager to know his pick following a lot of speculation in the US media.
In 2008, Republican candidate John McCain picked Sara Palin as his running mate in the election that saw current president Barack Obama emerge winner.
Former US president (Democrat) Bill Clinton picked Al Gore in the 1992 election as his running mate.
The events of 2008, following the death of president Levy Mwanawasa in office, left the country in a dilemma. The ruling party, MMD, embarked on a lengthy process of making vice-president Rupiah Banda become a nationally-endorsed president.
After acting as republican President, Mr Banda was endorsed by the MMD executive members as the party’s presidential candidate in the by-election that took place the same year.
The presidential by-election that saw Mr Banda win the presidency with 44 percent would otherwise have been avoided if constitutional mechanisms had existed for a vice-president to take over the office of president.
The current constitution has no provision for a vice-president as a running mate to a presidential candidate.
Currently, the vice-president is appointed from among elected or nominated members of Parliament, rendering the office without any security of tenure.
For example, during late president Levy Mwanawasa’s term of office, the country saw four vice presidents take up and leave the office.
The idea of a running mate may foster democracy in such a way that costly by-elections, especially those at presidential level, are avoided and a smooth transition is provided for when the vice-president takes over the presidency.
In a case where voters have a say over the holder of this office, care would be taken to nominate a candidate who is popular with the people and avoid one whose inclination is towards the party or the nominating authority.
Those who support the election of a vice-president further state that care should be taken to pick a candidate, who is of presidential material and this becomes a compelling factor in the choice of one who is seen as a successor in case of an eventuality.