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Daggers drawn in Tonse Alliance

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Amid tension which you could cut with a knife, largely triggered by President Lazarus Chakwera’s withholding of delegated responsibilities to Vice-President Saulos Chilima following his alleged implication in corrupt dealings, there seems to be no love lost between Tonse Alliance main partners MCP and UTM, with Chilima yesterday singling out a clause in their agreement on removal of the President’s immunity and his reference to baton exchange in 2025.

By Deogratias Mmana

Vice-President Saulos Chilima, who is leader of UTM party, yesterday thinly unpacked some of the closely guarded contents of the Tonse Alliance agreement, hinting that there was an agreement that he would be the one to lead the alliance as its presidential candidate come 2025, a claim which MCP dismisses.

In his address, Chilima further presidential election of June 23, 2020.

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“Beyond this, I would like to state that the agreement was signed for a period of 10 years in which both Dr Chakwera and I would support one another to lead for one term. But if for any reason this were to change, a process similar to what ensued before the Agreement was signed ought to follow.

“There is no wisdom in name calling, abuse, arrogance, humiliation or indeed violence for something that came into being amid smiles and a sense of hope for many generations. Any departure from the agreement amounts to political fraud not only on the parties to the agreement but also on the popular will that mandated the Alliance in the first place,” Chilima said.

Tonse Alliance spokesperson Kamuzu Chibambo refused to comment on Chilima’s address, saying MCP was better placed to comment.

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About six hours after Chilima made the address, MCP politburo, led by their Secretary General Eisenhower Mkaka, convened a press briefing where they read out a statement in response to the proclamations by Chilima.

“Since the address by the UTM president touched on matters related to the substance and and sustainability of the Tonse Alliance, the Malawi Congress Party will follow the alliance’s agreed guidelines for addressing such matters,” the statement, signed by MCP spokesperson Maurice Munthali which Mkaka read out, said.

On the contentious issue of sharing presidential terms, this is what Mkaka said:

“From where we stand, the Malawi Congress Party does not have, in its possession, any document that stipulates or points to the sharing of terms between Dr Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera and Dr Saulos Klaus Chilima. In any case, as a law abiding party, we will comply with the dictates of the supreme laws of the land which is our Republican Constitution.”

Weighing in his thoughts, University of Malawi-based constitutional lawyer Garton Kamchedzera said the agreement between MCP and UTM cannot trigger a fresh presidential election because it was a gentleman’s agreement which does not override the country’s Constitution.

He said the country has had such agreements in the past.

“Constitution of two parties cannot override the Constitution of the country,” Kamchedzera said.

He added that even Chilima said in his address that for the election to take place, it would be subject to decisions of the parties’ conventions.

Chilima also decried the Alliance’s failure to push for the amendment of the Constitution to remove the presidential immunity to expose any president to investigations.

“This is the time to amend the Constitution of Malawi in order to remove the immunity which Presidents of this country enjoy under section 91(2) of the Constitution so that everyone in Malawi can be prosecuted for criminal wrongdoing. The fight against corruption must be attended by all the integrity that is necessary for its legitimacy. We believe that where there is suspicion for wrongdoing, law-enforcement agencies must be left to do their job in accordance with the law. And the law must thereafter take its course without fear or favour of anyone. That remains our commitment to the people of Malawi and there are no two ways about it,” Chilima said.

Commenting on this, former attorney general Charles Mhango said the alliance agreement to remove the presidential immunity under Section 91 (2) of the Constitution is binding because Section 91 (2) is not a protected section under the Schedule which protects certain parts of the Constitution which can only be amended if the proposed amendments have been put to a Referendum under Section 196 (1) (a) of the Constitution.

“So, in conclusion, the Tonse Alliance Agreement is binding and may be enforced, subject only to securing the required two thirds majority in Parliament to amend Section 91 (2) of the Constitution, to remove the presidential immunity,” Mhango said.

Commenting on his implication in the Sattar corruption case, Chilima said: “I will welcome the opportunity to respond to allegations of my alleged corrupt dealings, for which decisions have been taken without sight of the evidence but I will do so strictly within due legal processes.

“To be clear, I will not fuel medial trials, let alone even appear to impair the work of the Anti-Corruption Bureau.”

Political scientist Makhumbo Munthali said by calling for a review of the Constitution to remove the President’s immunity, Chilima may have feelings that Chakwera is also implicated in corruption but protected by the law.

“He may be raising an alarm but if the current government is serious about it, let it take the matter to Parliament but it needs sober debate,” Munthali said, adding that Chilima’s political image is dented.

Munthali warned that Chilima’s address and other presidential events that have occurred recently should not be a way to divert people’s attention from the Sattar-related corruption allegations.

“Those implicated in the case should be prosecuted. The fight against corruption is bigger than Malawi,” he said.

Presidential Press Secretary Anthony Kasunda refused to give Chakwera’s comment on Chilima’s address.

Following the landmark constitutional court judgement on February 03, 2020 that nullified the outcome of the May 2019 presidential elections results, MCP and UTM, together with seven other parties, decided to come together under the Tone Alliance trump card, which saw them oust former president Peter Mutharika and his Democratic Progressive Party from power.

Not much was heard about the contents of the agreement which the partners signed until Chilima’s proclamations Friday.

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