Defend constitution, Joyce Banda advised


On one April Saturday afternoon, President Joyce Banda, in the presence of her family, a handful of supporters and other government dignitaries, took an oath of office in Parliament.

This was part of the larger ceremony in which the instruments of State were passed on to the President after the demise of Bingu wa Mutharika on April 5.

I cannot waste newspaper space here by reproducing the full wording of the oath the President took, but the major feature of that ceremony was that she swore to defend and protect the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi in both letter and spirit.

Fast forward all this by three months and the issue is Section 65 of the Constitution which prohibits MPs from leaving parties that sponsored them and joining other political entities. The issue is whether Speaker Henry Chimunthu Banda should declare vacant seats of parliamentarians that joined the ruling PP.

My stand remains that the Speaker must do what the law says and that is to declare seats of nomadic MPs vacant as Section 65 was put in our Constitution to control greed among our MPs and instil a sense of discipline.

It is meant to bring order and catch cheats. An MP that campaigns on a party ticket wins on that ticket. If he/she wants to change, it can only be fair if he or she goes back to the constituency to let people endorse the new agenda and identity.

You can, therefore, imagine how dismayed and disappointed I was this week when I heard the President saying she does not have money to fund by-elections if Speaker of Parliament applies Section 65 of the Constitution.

The President even defended the MPs that are said to have crossed the floor, saying they are still seated in their original positions in Parliament and that it was the DPP MPs who have changed the seating plan.

I have this to say to my President. She should desist from being patronising to the nation. This is not about her but it is about the nation and its Constitution which she swore to defend in totality and not only bits and pieces which she likes.

By speaking against Section 65 in the manner she did, the President is sacrificing her constitutional duty to defend the Constitution at the altar of political expediency and her personal short-term interests which is the survival of PP until 2014.

When shall Malawians have a president who fully respects the sacredness of the Constitution when even Joyce Banda, who has ruled for the past three months on the platform of reversing the Bingu wa Mutharika madness, has now joined the bandwagon of leaders who want laws to serve them and not them serving the laws?

The danger of the refusal to be submissive to the Constitution using the money argument is how far it can go if this country allows it to prevail. If today the President says there is money for Section 65, what can stop her or any future tyrant we might have to use the same argument that there is no money to have a general election when the Constitution stipulates that we have the polls every five years?

Choosing which laws to respect and which ones to ignore is a sure recipe for anarchy and dangerous for this country and the President should be the last person to be seen to be supporting this.

It is this same reason why this country has had no councillors since 2005 when the Constitution is clear that we must have them to look after small units of development communities called wards.

I am not surprised that the Tripartite Elections Bill was conveniently ignored in the just ended sitting of Parliament and the civil society organisations who are pushing for tripartite polls on behalf of Malawians come 2014 have all the reasons to get worried especially when the President takes the lead in not respecting constitutional provisions about elections.

Which is all a shame really because the President has done and said the right things since she took over in April.

The economy is slowly stabilising although prices of goods are way above the incomes of most Malawians. There is now an uninterrupted supply of essential goods and services in the country and Malawians can now begin to dream and hope.

The point is the Joyce Banda presidency has taken off on a good note. She should, therefore, not taint it by choosing what laws to respect and which ones to throw away to serve short term political interests.

It will haunt her in the future but most importantly by doing so she is knocking on the door to join a league of tyrants such as the late Mutharika who thought laws should be made in their image and likeness. Remember how Mutharika took the same Section 65 all the way to the Supreme Court and failed.

Madam President, defend the Constitution if you want to be different. Respect the rule of law fully.

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