Mutharika’s migraine starts: Malawi political analysis

Despite winning a new five-year mandate, Malawi President-elect Peter Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) failed to amass a legislative majority, a situation that could render his government inept and unable to govern should the opposition decide not to cooperate.

A leading political analyst has however, favoured the ruling party not to face legislative hurdles.

“The hung Parliament might slow down pace of legislation, but will not hinder Mutharika from governing. I do not expect him to face any serious challenges,” said Dr Boniface Dulani, a political science lecturer and researcher at the University of Malawi.

President Peter Mutharika has no majority MPs.
President Peter Mutharika has no majority MPs.

Official results released by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) show that the opposition has garnered a majority number of MPs, but no single party has obtained the ideal two-thirds majority required to move legislation.

In Malawi, a ruling party requires to have a two-thirds majority (128 members) to effectively govern the floor in the 193-member Parliament.

According to the MEC results, main opposition parties MCP, UDF and DPP have a total of 88 members, against DPP’s 50 elected members, while another 52 are independents. Two smaller parties have a total of two MP’s while one seat awaits a bi-election.

Mutharika’s brother Bingu faced impeachment during his first five-year term in 2005 after the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), which Mutharika had unceremoniously dumped to form the DPP, ganged up with the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) to impeach him.

While unsuccessful, the impeachment moves were a major distraction for Mutharika as they slowed down legislation and locked out spending from the budget which stayed months without being approved by Parliament.

“I do not expect Peter Mutharika to face impeachment. He should be given the benefit of doubt as somebody not likely to breach the Constitution,” said Dulani.

He tipped the new President to outsmart such challenges as he is well positioned to forge a working coalition with independents.

On Monday, Mutharika offered an olive branch to his opponents and invited them to work together towards revitalising the country’s economy. No political party had yet to offer a working platform with Mutharika’s polarising DPP.

With a hung Parliament, challenges remain for Mutharika as his offer of an ‘olive branch’ could invoke the wrath of the Speaker of Parliament, who has powers under Section 65 of the Malawi Constitution to strike out a member of Parliament who crosses the floor to another party other than the one on whose ticket he was elected.

“How Section 65 will be applied will be determined by who gets the position of Speaker. If the opposition come together to choose a Speaker, he or she will not favour itinerants,” said Dulani, who is also an independent researcher for pollster Afrobarometer.

The analyst said the current state of stakes in Parliament was tipped in favour of the electorate.

“The situation will force Peter to govern by consensus, which in turn should benefit the general population,” he said.

A leading civil rights activist agrees.

“It’s good for our democracy as we expect a lot of sanity in Parliament. The challenge we’ve had with Parliament is that politicians have not respected Section 65 in the past,” said Moses Mkandawire, head of the Civic and Political Space Platform, which groups churches and civil society organisations.

Official results of the May 20 election indicate that the ruling DPP has 50 elected members, MCP 48, PP of Joyce Banda 26, UDF 14 and 52 independents.

As it is not automatic that independents and opposition will cooperate in Parliament, Peter’s headaches start here. His private doctors in the US, whom he visited quietly just before the elections according to US media reports, better be on standby.

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