Nsanje South West member of Parliament (MP) Joseph Chidanti Malunga yesterday refused to wind up debate on a motion to limit the age of presidential candidates to 65 after the government and opposition sides joined forces to defeat it.
The development means that the motion—which seeks to pave the way for an amendment to the Constitution—will be resuscitated during another meeting of Parliament, possibly in November this year.
Tabling the motion, Chidanti Malunga said the age at which a person should contest as a presidential candidate should be limited to 65 to avoid the person being manipulated in old age.
He said it does not make sense for the retirement age of 60 to apply to civil servants only when the reasons for having such applies to any human being whose mental and physical faculties slow down as they age.
Outspoken and controversial Mulanje South MP Bon Kalindo (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP) seconded the motion, saying it was not targeting anyone despite the prevailing political situation in the country.
However, Lilongwe South MP Peter Dimba (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) accused Chidanti Malunga of bringing a motion not in the interest of the House, but for members of the ‘Chilima Movement’, a grouping canvassing for the candidacy of Vice-President Saulos Chilima in the presidential race in 2019.
He said: “Age has nothing to do with the quality of leadership and there is no correlation between age and leadership. This country does not need a young man as President. This country does not need an old man as President. This country needs a leader.”
Dimba received a standing ovation from the government benches when he finished speaking.
On the government side, Mulanje Bale MP Victor Musowa (DPP) also dismissed the motion, describing it as an embarrassment to the youth of Malawi.
Both Kalindo and Chidanti Malunga are members of the Chilima Movement, a loose grouping comprising MPs and other individuals, mostly from DPP, pushing for transformational leadership in the country. The group lobbied that President Peter Mutharika should pave the way for Chilima as DPP torchbearer in next year’s elections before Chilima announced he was quitting the governing party ahead of its elective convention.
Mutharika faced an unprecedented resistance for an incumbent—eligible for a second term as per the Constitution—from some DPP members canvassing for Chilima’s candidacy.
Former first lady Callista Mutharika—widow of Bingu who was the incumbent President’s elder brother—sparked the succession debate in March when she said her in-law, 79, should pave the way for the comparatively youthful and energetic Chilima, 45, widely seen as a hands-on and results-oriented leader after he vibrantly led the Public Sector Reforms Programme that has since lost steam after being moved from his domain.
In an earlier interview on the presidential age limit, former Malawi Law Society (MLS) president Mwiza Nkhata told our sister newspaper, Weekend Nation, that while there is need for the President to be energetic, the decision on whether the country should put an age limit for its presidents should be made collectively by all Malawians.
The Constitution only sets 35 as the minimum age for one to attain the office of the President.
Nkhata noted that apart from the Constitutional Review Report of 2007, the Special Law Commission on Electoral Reforms also considered the question, but both failed to agree on whether to put an upper age limit on the President.
Section 80(6) of the Constitution stipulates that a person is eligible for election as President or Vice-President if he or she is a citizen of Malawi by birth or descent and has attained the minimum age of 35.
MCP president and leader of opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera is aged 63 and, if Chidanti Malunga’s motion passed and the Constitution amended, he will not be eligible for a second term if he wins the 2019 elections.
Later, the House adopted a motion resolving that the November 2018 and February 2019 meetings of Parliament be budgeted for and held as planned to allow for completion of bills introduced in the current meeting.
There was no debate on the motion save for remarks from the mover, Dedza East legislator Juliana Lunguzi (MCP) and the seconder, Dowa East MP Richard Chimwendo Banda (MCP).