June 19, 2007

Political instability threatens poverty spending

As President Bingu wa Mutharika's minority party faces the possibility of losing more seats in parliament, Malawi's civil society has expressed concern that this year's budget might be stalled.
Malawi's Supreme Court had granted powers to the Speaker of Parliament to expel defecting lawmakers, a decision that would affect the strength of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has welcomed 60 defectors into its fold, bringing its tally of members in parliament to 80. The opposition, with about 110 seats, is the largest bloc in parliament. "The budget might not be passed," commented Richard Tambulasi, head of the department of political and administrative studies in the University of Malawi. The court ruling has pushed the ruling DPP into a tight corner and "created political instability", he added. According to Felix Lombe, a conflict analyst with the Forum for Dialogue and Peace, a programme run by GTZ, the German Development Agency's technical arm, "the opposition is likely to use its muscle to defer votes on expenditure - there will be a delay in the allocation of funds to projects and programmes".
Mutharika has spent almost three years in power, at the centre of a tense standoff with the opposition that has stalled the functioning of the house and delayed the approval of bills. The political crisis began when Mutharika left the United Democratic Front (UDF), shortly after it sponsored him in the 2004 general elections, to form his own political organisation, the DPP. The UDF hit back with an impeachment charge, accusing Mutharika of using US$300,000 of public money to launch the DPP. The opposition is likely to use its muscle to defer votes on expenditure - there will be a delay in the allocation of funds to projects and programmes The political confrontation at the height of a food security crisis in Malawi in 2005 even aroused the donor community's concern. Donors wrote to opposition political leaders, voicing their anxiety over the impeachment proceedings while the country was experiencing a "serious and prolonged food crisis". Louis Chimango, Speaker of the house and a member of the opposition Malawi Congress Party, has reportedly not indicated whether he would go ahead with the dismissals. According to Tambulasi, the affected members of parliament (MPs) were likely to lodge an appeal against the court decision, "which could possibly buy them time till the general elections in 2009". "I don't think anyone wants by-elections, as the firing of the MPs would prompt that, because the country cannot afford them right now. It would also be pointless to have election now, when 2009 is only about a year away," he said.
Lombe explained the opposition was not geared for an election and were unlikely to press for it, but "they might make a bid to oust Mutharika through the impeachment process again."
Mutharika survived the impeachment motion after the Constitutional Court blocked the move. (Rts)

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