Mutharika’s US green card could scuttle candidacy

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) bigwigs feel their  president Peter Mutharika’s continued stay in the United States to fulfil requirements of his green card permanent residence privilege are clear indications of doubts he has of his party’s victory in the forthcoming elections.

Mutharika who left Malawi mid-December last year is yet to return from his second home of Virginia in the United States where he was a University Professor for many years before his brother the late President Bingu wa Mutharika recalled him home for an abortive succession plan.

“Either he knows his chances are very slim and he is setting up his plan B or simply he has information that his party will not win so he better create an exit plan,” said a DPP official  in the southern region who claimed the extended stays do not reflect well on the Professor.

DPP leader Peter Mutharika: Green card loyalty raises eye brows

DPP leader Peter Mutharika: Green card loyalty raises eye brows

Bashing

The fears  have amplified what England-based Malawian lawyer, Z Allan Ntata, who served as a legal advisor to late President Bingu Wa Mutharika criticised Peter Mutharika’s leadership style on the road to 2014, saying as a main opposition leader, was not demonstrating that he has strategy to win the forthcoming election.

Ntata wondered why Peter Mutharika was currently outside the country when was supposed to be around to respond to the dynamics of political developments.

“Political leadership is about strategy. Professor Peter Mutharika is out of Malawi right now. What is he doing outside Malawi at a time when he should be in Malawi responding to the dynamics of political developments?” said Ntata.

He again wondered if Mutharika has a good strategy team.

“In Malawi it is not the ideal that works. Literacy levels are below 15 percent, and the people that are able to analyse things are below 3 percent of the population.

“A good strategy team needs to recognise this and fearlessly make it clear to their candidate. This is a time when the leaders of the most powerful opposition parties need to be showing their true leadership mettle by demonstrating competence in integrity, strategy and leadership”.

“Such demonstration can only be made by properly analysing the times and the requirements of a victory strategy, with a realistic appreciation of its costs. This cannot be done when a leader is away from the country at crucial times like these for prolonged periods.”

Private

DPP Secretary-General Jean Kalirani and Publicity Secretary Nicholas Dausi  in separate interviews with Nyasa Times said Mutharika went to US “on private trip.”  This was also echoed by Mutharika’s Personal Assistant, Ben Phiri.

The DPP 2014 presidential candidate is no stranger to prolonged stays in the United States where he holds a green card permanent residence status which requires one to be present in the United States at least 90 days within a year.

“Even when he was a Minister he would use Christmas holiday and his brothers United Nations General Assembly trips in September to cover up the required 90 days for one to be able to fill tax returns as a permanent resident of the United States,” said a DPP insider.

His absence has been felt even among the ranks of the DPP as primaries which he is the main financier despite the party receiving Parliamentary funding which is tightly controlled by Mutharika have been stopped in other regions and no major rally has been addressed by his deputies Yunus Mussa, Hetherwick Ntaba or Nick Masebo.

Immigration

The United States Government website states that one can be declared to have abandoned his or her permanent residence status if he moves to another country intending to live there permanently, remain outside the U.S for more than one year without obtaining a re-entry permit or returning resident visa.

“However in determining whether your status has been abandoned, any length of absence from the U.S may be considered, even if it is less than one year,” reads the provision which raises questions on whether Mutharika has abandoned his permanent residence status.

“Mutharika going to fulfil green card requirements should raise doubts of his loyalty to Malawi. Do you mean Malawians want to elect someone who does not believe in being its permanent residence as Head of State? “asks one of social media activist.

The provisions of the green card maintenance adds, “It is very important to understand that you have been given a green card (permanent resident card) to stay here in the USA permanently. That means, you must stay primarily in the United States. You can travel outside the United States for less than 6 months in a given year without having problem in general. Absences abroad of more than 6 months but less than 1 year create reasonable presumption that you intend to abandon your residence. You must never abandon the intention such as by intending to reside permanently in some other country), you loes the right to keep your green card. Please note that simply returning to the US once a year to use the green card is not enough. In practice, USCIS may not catch you, but if they do they can place you in exclusion proceedings (first step in cancelling a green card when green card holder is trying to enter the United States) when they do suspect that you are actually not living in the United States.”

Pitfalls

Despite the US Embassy in Lilongwe clearing Mutharika that he is not an American citizen,a legal expert Justin Dzonzi  said Mutharika’s candidacy for the presidency need to be challenged in a court of law basing on his holding US green card.

US Public Affairs officer Gabriel Hons-Clivier is on record saying Mutharika does not hold an American citizenship.

“I checked with the embassy, and I can respond that Prof. Mutharika is a green card holder, not an American citizen”, Hons-Clivier said.

Dzonzi, Justice Link executive director, howeve said the court needs to give interpretation on the matter, arguing that legally, the green card is the US permanent resident card which is issued under the Homeland Security Act 2002 as an identification card attesting to the permanent resident status of a foreigner living and working in the United States.

He argued that the Malawi Constitution and Section 80 (6) states that a person does not qualify to stand for presidency unless he or she is a citizen of Malawi by birth or descent and has attained the age of 35 years, while subsection 80(7) (d) further states that a person who owes allegiance to a foreign country is also not eligible to stand for presidential elections.

“The fact that a person has been issued with the green card does not mean she or he is a citizen but it is the first step towards becoming a naturalised citizen. The holder of a green card owes certain allegiances to the United States of America such as payment of taxes and maintaining a permanent residence in the United States,” said Dzonzi.

“This may require Prof Peter Mutharika to take up residence in the US for periods of not less a month per year. So it is possible for people to challenge his candidacy based on this fact. It will be up to the courts to define whether the term ‘owe allegiance’ covers this situation or not,” the paper quoted Dzonzi.

“It is clear that Prof. Peter Mutharika remains a citizen of Malawi by birth and unless he expressly renounces his citizenship under the Malawi Citizenship Act, no one can deprive him of this status.”

But Mutharika has always insisted that he has no dual citizenship but that he has a 10-year multiple entry visa for the US through the green card and a 15-year multiple entry visa for the United Kingdom.

Dynasty

Mutharika whom President Joyce Banda insinuated that he is a failure, was largely imposed by his late brother to become a successor and during the DPP regime he received endorsement from Chiefs and party officials, despite being only in politics for less than five years after he was elected in 2009 as Thyolo East MP.

DPP MP’s save for the majority in its Lhomwe base have largely abandoned the party with Northern Region remaining only with four namely Grace Chiume, Vuwa Kaunda, Goodal Gondwe, Nick Masebo and Vincent Ghambi, while in the Centre less than 7 remain including Jean Kalirani the Secretary General, Bokosi Khamba and Benjamini Mangira and in the East only Yunus Mussa and Noel Masangwi remain.

Mutharika’s public service performance has been a disaster with many bad laws including infamous section 46 anti-press law, injunctions and anti-public farting law all attributed to his time as Minister of Justice, he mute mode during the infamous Chancellor College yearlong academic freedom battle when he was Minister of Education and later his failure to advise his brother not to deport the British High Commissioner for a newspaper article.

He was also booted out of a Zimbabwe tribunal after parties expressed reservation as his brother was seen as close to the Zimbabwean leader.

Mutharika has promised to continue his brother’s works and values.

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