PRESIDENT AND OPPOSITION (FINALLY) BEGIN NEGOTIATIONS OVER IMPASSE

C O N F I D E N T I A L LILONGWE 000263   SIPDIS   DEPT FOR E. PELLETREAU  MCC FOR DIEDRA FAIR  USAFRICOM FOR STRATEGY PLAN AND PROGRAMS SOUTHERN BRANCH   E.O. 12958:

Cable Date: 2008 May 9

SUBJECT: MALAWI: PRESIDENT AND OPPOSITION (FINALLY) BEGIN  NEGOTIATIONS OVER IMPASSE   REF: LILONGWE 252   Classified By: Political Officer John Letvin for Reason 1.4(d)

(SBU) Summary: On May 7, President Mutharika invited  leaders of the political opposition for talks to resolve the  impasse over Section 65 of the constitution.  This marks the  first time the President and opposition have discussed  compromising on the issue in their three-year-old dispute.  Comment:  Talks are a positive step forward by both sides and  good-faith negotiations have gone on for three days, but  given the long and bitter history of the dispute, a  negotiated compromise will be difficult to achieve.

(U) On May 7, President Bingu wa Mutharika invited leaders  of the political opposition for talks to resolve the  continued impasse in the National Assembly.  Leaders from the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), United Democratic Front (UDF),  and Republican Party (RP) attended the talks at the  President’s home.  The continued impasse is over  implementation of floor-crossing legislation contained in  Section 65 of the Malawi constitution which could force over  40 MPs to vacate their seats.  Mutharika initiated the talks  after the opposition, who returned from a failed boycott of  the National Assembly on May 5 (reftel), rejected two bills  for approval of foreign financing, making it clear that  Section 65 must be addressed first.  The talks, which lasted  six-and-a-half hours on day one, continued through the end of  the week.  The Speaker adjourned the National Assembly until  May 12 to allow time for negotiations to produce a political  solution to the dispute.

(C)  Atupele Muluzi, a high-ranking UDF MP and son of UDF  Chairman and former president Bakili Muluzi, told emboffs  that a potential compromise solution would be to apply  Section 65 only to MPs who changed parties after the Supreme  Court’s June 15, 2007 ruling that affirmed the section.  This  solution would affect significantly fewer government MPs and  would allow the government to maintain sufficient numbers to  block feared impeachment proceedings against Mutharika.  Likewise, the solution would allow opposition parties to draw  a line in the sand on the issue of floor-crossing,  discouraging further poaching of their incumbents in the  lead-up to next year’s elections.

(SBU) Comment:  The talks are a positive step forward for  opposition parties and Mutharika’s government.  It marks the  first time Mutharika has agreed to discuss the Section 65  issue with rival political leaders during the now  three-year-old impasse.  The fact that both sides have kept  negotiation details out of the press signals all sides are  likely negotiating in good faith.  The negotiations have gone  on for three days now, but given the long and bitter history  of the dispute, arriving at a compromise will be difficult.  SULLIVAN

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