April 10, 2003

Cabinet appointments shake up political alignment

Malawian President Bakili Muluzi has appointed five new cabinet ministers from opposition ranks, among them a new vice president. Muluzi dissolved his cabinet last week, just days after announcing he was giving up his bid to seek a third term in office, and named Bingu wa Mutharika as his successor.

Chakufwa Chihana, president of the opposition Alliance for Democracy (Aford), was appointed the country's second-vice president, while a further four members of his party joined the cabinet on Wednesday night (April 9). Chihana had recently announced he would not run for president in 2004, and was not opposed to Muluzi serving beyond the constitutional limit of two terms. Two veteran ministers with apparent presidential aspirations, former agriculture and environmental affairs ministers Aleke Banda and Harry Thomson, were omitted from the new cabinet. Also dropped was former attorney-general and justice minister, Henry Phoya.

The announcement of the new "government of national unity" was significant, given that the country was gearing up for general elections in 2004, analysts told IRIN. "[Muluzi] is rewarding the proponents of the third term and [attempting] to reduce the influence of [those opposed to it]," said political scientist Chijere Chirwa. Khwauli Msiska, one of the Aford MPs appointed to the new cabinet, had earned derision from opposition ranks when he introduced a bill in the national assembly proposing an amendment to the constitutional limits on presidential terms. The bill failed.

But Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Alfred Upindi told journalists that "the President does not want to appoint all ministers from one district or region. He has to ensure a national balance and unity.” He parried away speculations that the President might have left out Banda and Thomson because they expressed interest to run for the UDF as a 2004 Presidential candidate. He said that the President also dropped Dossi who had not harboured any Presidential ambitions. "The President has powers vested in him by the Constitution, in sections 92 and 94 to appoint anyone into the cabinet. He is not obliged to say why he has hired or left out a particular individual," he said.

Muluzi's appointment of opposition members to the cabinet may "cause much greater division" in the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF). "The rift in UDF is going to widen [because] it's a betrayal of the people he's been with all this time," Chirwa said. Muluzi also moved the Speaker of the National Assembly, Sam Mpasu, to the cabinet as minister of commerce and industry.

In response to the seeming alliance between the ruling party and Aford, other opposition parties have begun discussions on possibly fielding a single presidential candidate in 2004. (IRIN / Malawi Standard, Blantyre)

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