The Speaker shall declare vacant the seat of any member of the National Assembly who was, at the time of his or her election, a member of one political party represented in the National Assembly, other than by that member alone but who has voluntarily ceased to be a member of that party and has joined another political party represented in the National Assembly (Section 65 (1) of the constitution).
Almost three months ago Joyce Banda was sworn in as president of the Republic of Malawi. Taking her oath she pledged to protect the constitution. But did she understand the oath she took or was it just a matter of merely going through the motions?
As most opposition members of parliament ditched their parties to join her ruling party the first test came fast and it was in the form of section 65 of the constitution.
Malawi Law Society president John Gift Mwankhwawa cautioned that failure by speaker of parliament to apply “the anti-defection law” risks Malawi, in future, turning into a one party state.
However, just before the speaker of parliament was scheduled to declare the seats of those MPs who crossed the floor vacant, Banda’s government moved swiftly; the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Ralph Kasambara, served the speaker of parliament with a court order restraining the speaker from declaring the seats vacant.
Last Sunday Banda herself came in the open. Addressing villagers in Mangochi she said: “those people advancing Section 65 implementation do not love you people. They want me to transfer money that would benefit you in cash transfer programme [to run by-elections].”
The more things change, the more they stay the same, so goes the adage. If we are to learn from history these are very worrying signs indeed.
*Cryton Chikoko tweets latest UK legal news @cryton (https://twitter.com/#!/Cryton)