September 12, 2002

Political Tensions Rise - Opposition Under Pressure

Two people have been killed and leading members of a lobby group opposed to a third term for President Bakili Muluzi have either been arrested, or face arrest, as political tensions rise in Malawi.

Behind the crisis is a failed attempt in July to change the constitution to allow Muluzi to run for a third term of office. The lobby group the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and human rights NGOs and churches, oppose a third term for Muluzi.

Police Inspector-General Joseph Aironi said the NDA's leader, Brown Mpinganjira, faced arrest in connection with the murder of a ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) member after clashes between supporters of the NDA and UDF two weeks ago in Mulanje, 60-km east of Blantyre. Mpinganjira allegedly fled Malawi after being implicated, Aironi said. "In this case, Mpinganjira's behaviour shows that he had foresight into what was going to happen," said Aironi, and added that the police, assisted by Interpol, would track him down and arrest him as an accomplice to murder.

Mpinganjira, a former senior minister in the UDF government, has been in and out of prison on charges of corruption and treason, which the courts have dismissed. He recently escaped an attack on his motorcade. Several opposition members of parliament and chiefs, who have opposed the third term bid, have allegedly been assaulted by militant ruling party youths.

Viva Nyimba, a lawyer for the NDA, alleged that there was a state-sponsored campaign aimed at discrediting the organisation. Nyimba said the NDA had written to the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), asking it to investigate allegations of violence against its supporters, one of whom was allegedly killed by shots fired by police.

An NDA spokesman, Ian Kanyuka, said that police plans to arrest Mpinganjira were an attempt to shift the focus from the third term issue. Two weeks ago, Minister of Justice Henry Phoya said the government would table a bill again proposing to amend the constitution to allow Muluzi to run for a third and final term of five years, when parliament sits in October. A similar private member's bill failed by three votes in July this year. To amend the constitution the ruling UDF, with 96 seats in the 193-seat parliament, needs the support of members of the opposition to attain a two-thirds majority.

Meanwhile, the newspaper „The Malawi Insider" wrote that the oppositional Malawi Congress Party will soon lose its Southern Region headquarters located at Chichiri in Blantyre. The former owners of the land and buildings, ADMARC, have hired legal experts to help them in reclaiming land, buildings and property, which was confisticated by the once mighty MCP during the one party regime. Lands Minister Thengo Maloya and Statutory Corporations Minister Bob Khamisa have said that the government is doing all it can to help ADMARC have its land.

MCP's spokesman Nicholas Dausi said that the party „will fight to the end to have those premises as our Southern Region Headquarters. That is one of the main sources of our revenue." He said that once ADMARC successfully gets back its premises, the MCP will have a big blow financially. Dausi revealed that MCP nets over K150, 000 per month through rentals of this place. (IRIN - MALAWI INSIDER)

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