Former president Bakili Muluzi has drawn criticism over his call for politicians to respect President Peter Mutharika with some commentators suggesting that respect is earned; hence, leaders should lead by example.
In an address to the United Democratic Front (UDF) convention at Comesa Hall in Blantyre on Wednesday, Muluzi—the country’s second Head of State who formed the first multiparty administration in 1994—noted that some politicians were disrespecting the President by calling him ‘mtchona’, a description of someone who has been away from his or her country for long.
Political commentator Humphreys Mvula, who previously worked with Muluzi in UDF, and analyst Henry Chingaipe yesterday said political leaders such as Muluzi himself should be the first to stop using offensive language if leaders are to be respected.
Mvula observed that politicians from the government side have on different occasions used foul and degrading language against their rivals, a development he said does not set a good example of any leader vying for top political position.
He said: “Those speeches from government have been unpalatable against citizens on account of disagreement. The issue applies to all politicians. They should not use foul language and they should not describe each other in a manner that defeats the whole elements of democracy.”
In his reaction, Chingaipe said by advising politicians to stop calling Mutharika ‘a mtchona’, Muluzi, like others, was exercising his freedom of speech.
But he bashed the former president for accusing people who said what he termed ‘a painful truth’ that many people are afraid of saying.
Chingaipe said there is nothing wrong with calling Mutharika that way because it is a truth that exists.
He said: “It depends on what respect is because respect is a generation aspect. What other generations understand as respect is not the similar thing as what our generation understands what respect is. For them not saying the truth is sometimes respectful but for us saying the truth is not a show of disrespect.”
According to Chingaipe, the fact that Mutharika is a ‘mtchona’ and what the former first lady and the incumbent President’s in-law Callista Mutharika and others said about him is just a statement of fact since Mutharika stayed abroad for decades where he was employed as an academic.
He said if Muluzi and Mutharika are to enjoy the right to be respected they should be on the front to desist from uttering language that is degrading to other politicians as well as citizens.
Said Chingaipe: “Muluzi may have said things which were disrespectful of other people, degrading their dignity and being disrespectful of their privacy. But that does not mean that he cannot criticise because he has come wiser over time, for me I do not want to say that simply because he was uttering disrespectful words then he should let others say.
“Our leaders should be the first to demonstrate respect of dignity to a person. They should be very careful in the language they choose.
“Even the President is saying things that are degrading to other people. I do not expect the Head of State to talk about citizens of his country kumanena kuti ndikunyenyani [I will cut you into pieces].”
Muluzi could not pick his phone yesterday when The Nation called for his comment.
In his address, Muluzi appealed to politicians against abusing the spirit of multiparty democracy as that is destroying the country.
He also urged people to exercise their democratic rights with responsibility and respect their leaders.
Said Muluzi: “Please do not destroy this country because of politics. This is the only country we have. Should we destroy it because of politics? Multiparty should not destroy this country.
“Whether mlamu [in-law] or not, you cannot stand on the podium and call your President mtchona.”
Muluzi himself is on record to have mocked his Vice President Justin Malewezi over his health condition after the two fell out. Muluzi also spoke ill about his former Cabinet minister Brown Mpinganjira.
In case of the DPP administration, recently the party’s Southern Region governor Charles Mchacha publicly used offensive remarks to Mulanje West legislator Patricia Kaliati through her husband and Mulanje Pasani legislator Angie Kaliati at a rally addressed by Mutharika. The President did not condemn the unsavoury remarks.