Constitutional engineering for a Deputy President for Malawi: The fallout between Chilima and Mutharika should be our last

In May 2019, Malawians will participate in the ritual of a general election for the sixth time after the transition to multiparty democracy. We will get a fifth Vice-President (VP). Another soul  in the office that  has simply become a poisoned chalice of vices and potentially a new series of drama in the politics of succession, political relationships characterised by suspicion, a confounding of governance and development, assaults of the integrity of the office incumbent  and unhealthy scheming and opportunism.

President Mutharika with Vice President Chilima

Our lived experience does not require a long narration. The Presidency is a conflicted office and being a VP is not virtuous. None of the incumbents have been able to see through their mandate with grace. They all completed their terms and Saulos Klaus Chilima (SKC) will also complete his. But none completed their mandate. It is evident that the current arrangement delivers a raw deal for Malawians, an undesirable outcome. I do not know how many electoral cycles or presidential terms will be enough to drive the message home into the heads of those who inhabit the institutions and offices that are mandated to address this institutional and agency malaise whose results we collectively detest.

Over the years, especially from 2003 to the present, proposals have been made to address the problem including litigation that sought to reinforce the proposals. Calls for resignation have been repeated for all VPs after Dr. Justin Malewezi under the pretext of encouraging them to preserve their personal integrity. But integrity so defined is such a small incentive that is outweighed by what is really at stake if the calls for resignations are heeded. Thus, none has resigned. Malewezi is the only VP to have resigned but in circumstances and ways that allowed him to complete his term of office nonetheless! Some have proposed removing the requirement of running mate for presidential election while others have proposed giving power to the president to fire the vice-president when the political calculus and chemistry no longer fit together and to hire another one.

All these proposals have huge potential to undermine democratic governance in various ways and to undermine the people’s aspirations that are in-built into the principles that informed the constitutional design of the presidency. I do not intend to carry out an assessment of these proposals here. My intention for this entry is to present a core diagnosis of the problem and start a debate on a new potential solution.

A careful review of our collective experiences with all the VPs so far clearly shows that the constitutional scheme for the presidency is weak for not spelling out specific core duties of the office of the VP. Duties for which the incumbent will not wait for or depend on the goodwill of the president to assign any temporary duties or roles. What we need is a solution that will reinforce the constitutional principles upon which the presidency is designed and obliges the President and the VP to effectively work together to execute the mandate of governing until the last minute of their term of office. Here is a simple but not simplistic solution to what has become a recurrent problem.

The Constitution should be amended in relevant sections. The amendments should effectively designate the vice-president as Leader of Government Business in the National Assembly and failure to discharge tasks related to this mandate should become grounds for impeachment. With this constitutional scheme, VPs will no longer renege on their duties while continuing to occupy the office as has been the case with four VPs so far.

Neither will presidents be able to warehouse VPs because any President needs a Leader of Government Business to manage and push through the legislative agenda. With this scheme, a VP cannot absent himself or herself from Cabinet meetings or avoid meeting the President because these are central for effective execution of the role of Leader of Government Business in the National Assembly.

Furthermore, as Leader of Government Business, the VP will wield authority over all portfolio Ministers and therefore preclude the political humiliation in which Cabinet ministers and other low-ranking politicians undermine and ridicule a VP, often to show their deep personal, almost patrimonial loyalty to the President. In short, this scheme will create a formal work relationship of mutual dependence between the President and the VP–a relationship in which the success of one depends significantly on the other. Mutual dependence on each other is the fibre and glue that binds political actors together.

Quite unlike the current situation where the President and VP can afford to go together through the presidential term without working together or meeting up. The properties of parallel lines should not be allowed to characterise the relationships in the presidency. The fallout between SKC and APM should be our last. n

  • Henry Chingaipe is a governance and development specialist
Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :

Please share this Article if you like Email This Post Email This Post
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
ELIJAH VERSUS BAAL
Guest

NO NO NO ! THE WRITING IS ON THE WALL !! MALAWI NEEDS A VERY SERIOUS REVOLUTION — 54 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE HAS BEEN A MOCKERY AND INSULT TO MALAWIAN PEOPLE —

Silica Gell
Guest
Silica Gell

The biggest problem is envy. One needs to be contented with what one has, the rest is automatic. To be a Veep is God’s grace and if we do not appreciate that aspect, then one is bound to leave a troubled mind. That is why even if you make personal efforts to be the country’s president you do not succeed. Check what I am saying, all Veeps in Malawi due to discontent have fought against their boss but none of them succeeded. Joice Banda thought she had succeeded by that constitutional order but God proved her wrong, she lost elections;… Read more »

Angoni
Guest
Angoni

Silica, you are right. Our VPs achuluka nkhwidzi.

Mbanji
Guest

Tha talk sounds like praise singers

Nangozo
Guest
Nangozo

Henry, you got it completely wrong. It is the politics that is the problem NOT our constitution. It’s sad that people like you do not see this. Your argument is what I call gutter intellectualism.

Nkhoma
Guest
Nkhoma

You are severely intellectually challenged Nangozo. Better shut up when you can’t make a constructive contribution on a subject matter for which you lack the intellectual capacity to grasp and comment on.

Mbanji
Guest

eish

johnbwanyama
Guest
johnbwanyama

Vuto ndiloti munthu akakhala Vp amaziwiratu kuti if anything happens to the boss then automatically nditenga mupando ndiposo bwana nayeso amaziwa right from word go kuti munthu ameneyo akhoza kundilanda mupando. what we need to do is that if anything happens someone can only be a care taker for 90 days or so ndiye anthu asiya kuwonana mokayikirana.

Make Malawi Great
Guest
Make Malawi Great

how to achieve this with dpp led govt and these form 4/ form 2 corrupt selfish MPs lol this will always be there unless u change govt.

Kawawa
Guest
Kawawa

I agree with you Chingaipe. Our constitution was framed by borrowing ideas from different foreign constitutions, more especially the American and British ( though unwritten) constitutions. From the U.S. constitution we borrowed the provision of the Vice-President and the fact that the incumbent should be the aspiring President ‘s running-mate during elections. In the USA the duties of the Vice-President are: (1) To succeed the President if the office of President becomes vacant through death or impeachment or some sort of permanent incapacitation. (2) To preside over the Senate as “Speaker “. In actual practice he delegates this duty to… Read more »

nambewe
Guest
nambewe

Henry you are absolutely spot on. There is something seriously wrong with the position of VP in Malawi as they all end up behaving the very same way. As you rightly suggest the biggest loser here are the Malawians. Not only; Are they paying an executive who is not doing their work! (for VPs are paid from our Tax money)But the trend appears to be setting itself as being inevitable! However to sort this out effectively we really *need to understand what goes wrong. We then correct that. *we need to legally safeguard that position so that the person who… Read more »

ELIJAH VERSUS BAAL
Guest

CHILIMA THE ONLY HOPE FOR MALAWIANS /THE REST ARE JOKERS !!

nyambiro
Guest
nyambiro

NEED TO REVISIT OUR CONSTITUTION OF MALAWI ON VP

Mbwiyembwiye
Guest
Mbwiyembwiye

TOTALLY AGREE REVISITING OUR CONSTITUTION. MOVEMENT OF VP TO PRESIDENCY SHOULD HAVE 60 /90 DAYS THEN ELECTIONS. NOT CHILIMA NOR CHAKWERA HAS A SOLUTION BUT CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT IS THE BEST ANSWER ON VP. OTHERWISE WHEN GREED FOR POWER CREEPS IN WHAT HAPPENS IS THIS MEDIOCRE POLITICS THAT WE SEE AROUND PLUS RECYCLED OPPORTUNISTIC AND DISGRUNTLED POLITICIAN BEING FORCES BEHIND VP/P DISAGREEMENTS.

More From web