Parliament in Malawi on Wednesday adopted President Joyce Banda’s State Opening Address after an initial vote went against endorsing it, forcing a call for a division in the House.
The government side breathed a sigh of relief after a roll-call vote went for the adoption with 90 members of Parliament (MPs) voting for it, 39 against it and 11 members abstaining. Fifty-two other MPs were absent in the 193 seat National Assembly.
Among those who voted alongside government, included Leader of the Opposition and MCP president John Tembo and UDF president and Machinga North East MP Atupele Muluzi. The two received loud applause after casting their vote.
During the whole process, it was clear that opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and United Democratic Front (UDF) joined the governing People’s Party (PP) to support the adoption of the President’s speech as the two parties registered ‘yes’ votes from almost all their MPs, with a few abstaining.
On the other hand, a majority of MPs from the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) voted ‘no’. DPP MPs who voted against the adoption included the party’s leader in the House George Chaponda, publicity secretary Nicholas Dausi and former minister Symon Vuwa Kaunda whereas the party’s interim president Peter Mutharika was absent.
Surprise ‘yes’ votes from DPP included those of controversial Thyolo Thava MP Lifred Nawena, Zomba Central MP Yunusu Mussa, Mchinji West MP Thereza Mwale, Lilongwe City South East MP Agness Penumulungu and Thyolo Central’s Kingsley Namakhwa.
The 11 MPs who abstained from the vote included former minister and Chikhwawa North MP Grain Malunga, Ntcheu Bwanje North’s Steven Kamwendo who is also a former deputy minister, and Blantyre Malabada’s Aaron Sangala, another former Cabinet minister in the late Bingu wa Mutharika administration.
Initially, the debate on the speech was supposed to be wound up Tuesday last week, but undercurrents within the House following the MPs’ fight for new fuel allowances approved in 2008 forced government to shelve continuation of debate and adoption of the speech.
But in a twist of events when the House resumed the day’s sitting in the afternoon, Leader of the House Henry Phoya took courage to shelve all business as indicated on the order paper and go straight to the President’s speech which was agenda item number three.
Deputy leader of the House Anita Kalinde sought curtailment of the debate and asked Blantyre Kabula MP Felix Njawala, who moved the motion, to wind up.
Later, Parliament passed the Gender Equality Bill after debating it for less than one hour.