Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president John Tembo has said he will not leave his post as leader of the opposition when former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has more Members of Parliament than his party, moves to the opposition benches in Parliament.
Tembo has been leader of the opposition since 2003 after taking over from Gwanda Chakuamba and had to fight in court after 2009 General Elections to wrest the post from legislator Abel Kayembe who was backed by the majority DPP MPs.
Temboâ€™s remarks follow the uncertainty surrounding how the countryâ€™s National Assembly will reorganise its order and seating plan following the death of former president Bingu wa Mutharika which has seen an abrupt exit of DPP from government.
In an interview on Tuesday, Tembo said the leader of the opposition is elected after general elections and not after the demise of a president.
â€œIt is not an issue of leaving the position, but what the law says. According to the law, the position is filled after general elections. This is done at the entry after general elections and not after the demise of a president,â€ said Tembo.
Asked whether he would protest any efforts to remove him from the post, the MCP leader said: â€œAre you being honest or fair? Why should I protest? Donâ€™t you know my stand on the law?â€
Tembo said he was not shaken by current changes on the political landscape and DPPâ€™s possible shift to the opposition benches.
â€œShaken about what? Are you not sorry that we have lost a president?â€ said Tembo before cutting his line.
Parliamentary Standing Orders say that the party with the largest number of MPs is supposed to lead the opposition bloc in the House. MCP has about 30 MPs whereas DPP has about 140 legislators.
â€œLeader of Opposition â€˜means the parliamentary leader of the largest party, elected by the parliamentary membership, which is not in government or in coalition with a government party, and who is recognised by the Speaker as such,â€™â€ reads Part 2 (3) of the Standing Orders adopted in 2003.
DPP secretary general Elias Wakuda Kamanga said the party is still mourning Mutharika and will determine its position on where to seat in the House after the end of the official 30-day mourning period on May 6. Mutharikaâ€™s brother, Peter, is currently leading DPP.
Speaker Henry Chimunthu Banda said he will seek legal advice from the Attorney General on whether Tembo would need to give the post to DPP should the former ruling party write him about its shift to the opposition benches.
â€œThere are several scenarios that people are looking atâ€¦.For now, that is not my issue. The Speaker will not speculate on these matters until he has been written on.
â€œWe will seek legal opinion from the legal counsel of government who is the Attorney General. We donâ€™t know how things will prevail until the Speaker has been written by the parties,â€ said Chimunthu Banda.
But former Speaker Sam Mpasu said Tembo would have to continue serving as Leader of Opposition regardless of DPPâ€™s majority on the opposition bench.
â€œWhat Honourable Tembo is saying is correct actually. Soon after elections, the leader of the largest party in the opposition becomes the Leader of Opposition. It is a recognised position equal to that of a deputy minister,â€ said Mpasu.
He, however, said the framers of the Constitution did not foresee a situation where another opposition party could have more MPs between two general elections and how to deal with it.
â€œWhat has happened is a totally new phenomenon we never thought of when we were framing the Constitution,â€ said Mpasu.
Political analyst Dr Mustapha Hussein said the way forward on Temboâ€™s post would require a political and not legal solution.
â€œWhat JZU is saying has some grain of sense. What has happened is circumstantial. Had it been that Banda was not expelled from DPP, the party would have continued to be in government and JZU would have continued to be the Leader of Opposition.
â€œThe issue would require a political solution and not a legal one, especially if DPP might claim to get the position because they are in majority,â€ said Hussein.