June 29, 2005

Political impasse reaching 'point of no return', warn analysts

A deepening political crisis in Malawi could have a debilitating effect on the country, analysts have revealed. Matters came to a head with an attempt to impeach President Bingu wa Mutharika, causing parliament to adjourn without passing a national budget. "Failure to pass a budget will be damaging to the economy and could have very negative consequences, particularly for the least advantaged and most vulnerable. The poor should not have to pay the price for difficulties in resolving political differences, no matter how legitimate these differences might be," the office said in a statement. The political bickering between Mutharika and the leaders of the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) of former president Bakili Muluzi, and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) of John Tembo, would not solve the social and economic problems facing the country, local analysts noted. Rafiq Hajat, executive director of the Institute for Policy Interaction, said the political differences between the government and the opposition had to be addressed soon. "We have been pushed to the point of no return," he remarked.
The dispute began with the president's address to members of parliament in the middle of June, when he spelled out his economic agenda for the country in the coming year. Many opposition MPs, particularly those from the UDF and MCP, rejected the speech as containing "nothing tangible for Malawi". Afterwards, UDF MP Lucius Banda proposed a motion to amend the constitution to allow MPs to impeach Mutharika and his deputy because the president left the UDF, which had sponsored him in the national elections.
Speaker Rodwell Munyenyembe referred the matter to the legal affairs committee of parliament, but his decision sparked outrage among some of the UDF and MCP MPs. In the midst of a heated exchange about the matter Munyenyembe collapsed, forcing parliament to adjourn. He later died in a hospital in South Africa. "Parliament is supposed to discuss the problems people are facing in this country; they are not supposed to discuss their [party] politics. The budget is very important and if it is not passed then Malawians will suffer, and even the IMF [International Monetary Fund] Board, which is meeting on 18th July, will not table Malawi's economic agenda for funding. This will mean that other donors will not support us," Hajat commented.
Up to 80 percent of Malawi's budget allocation for development is provided by donors, and the country faces enormous challenges related to poverty, food insecurity, HIV/AIDS and the capacity to deliver services.Hajat added that, should Malawi fail to secure donor funding, "prices of commodities will rise and this will push up inflation, which is currently at 18 percent, and the rural poor will not be able to buy food items". "This is not a time for political stubbornness. The solution to this is for a statesman from another country, probably a head of state from within the African Union, to intervene and maybe the politicians would listen," he said. (IRIN)

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