More drama is expected when Parliament resumes sitting today, with main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) vowing not to respond to President Peter Mutharika’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) delivered on Friday.
The party has said it will not prepare a response to the Sona as per tradition because they consider Mutharika’s presidency as illegitimate.
The party’s members of Parliament (MPs) disrupted Mutharika’s address and finally walked out of the chamber on Friday while chanting anti-Mutharika songs when he started the address, halting proceedings as new Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani-Hara tried to calm the situation.
Governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators as well as some independent and opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) and UTM Party MPs stayed in Parliament to listen to the President deliver the Sona.
The MCP MPs left bottles of Tippex—a correctional fluid that was used to alter results sheets in the May 21 Tripartite Elections—on their tables. Some were heard saying that the Mutharika, who was announced winner of the controversial presidential election on May 28, should address the bottles as they made him win the poll.
Standing Orders indicate that when the President opens a session or meeting, parties with more than 10 MPs in Parliament should respond to the speech, budget statement or Sona before it is open to the rest of the House for debate.
MCP secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka said in a telephone interview yesterday that their party will not respond to the Sona, but they will attend Parliament to pass a provisional budget for government activities and business to continue.
He said: “As it is now, we don’t have a legitimate leader, so there is no point responding to what he was saying. Our focus is on passing a provisional budget. We cannot hold the country to ransom because of one person. Things have to move but he is not our leader, he is illegitimate.”
MCP’s elections ally, the People’s Party (PP), has also vowed to follow suit.
PP spokesperson Ackson Kalaile Banda has since said there is no need for them to respond to a speech by an illegitimate president.
But with less than 10 parliamentarians in the House, PP would not be eligible to respond to the Sona, according the House rules (Standing Orders).
With the current situation, it means the House expects responses from MCP which has 55 MPs and courted some 18 independent legislators, as well as UDF which has 10 MPs.
The independent block, which had 55 legislators, is also not recognised but contributes to the general debate as individuals.
Meanwhile, UDF Leader in the House Lilian Patel said they will respond to the Sona, stressing that it is a new election and they are working as an opposition party.
UDF was in a parliamentary working relationship with DPP during the 2014-19 Parliament, and the party’s leader Atupele Muluzi served in various ministerial positions during those five years.
But Patel said they are now an independent opposition party.
She said: “I am preparing the response to the speech as UDF. You know we are an independent opposition party and from the way we were allocated seats, it really shows we are in opposition. There is no working relationship with DPP. So, I will respond as UDF which is on the opposition.”
UTM Party, which is contesting the presidential election alongside MCP, said they remained in the House because their protest approach is not confrontational.
The party’s leader in the House Chrissie Kanyasho said their way of protesting was to remain silent in the House and that was enough to show their displeasure.
She, however, said her party’s four member are free to respond to the Sona when the time for individual contributions comes.
Meanwhile, University of Malawi’s Chancellor College-based political analyst Earnest Thindwa has projected a tough time for DPP in the House, saying the move by MCP was not a surprise as they already indicated that they do not recognise Mutharika as president.
He, therefore, suggested that until all court matters are resolved, Parliament needs to limit its deliberations and prioritise appropriation budget discussions.
Said Thindwa: “MCP wants to be consistent in the way they approach the contested presidential election results. It would be illogical if MCP were to be present during the Sona and respond to the same as an assumed opposition party when they are contesting the legitimacy of Mutharika’s presidency and his administration.
“As a political settlement, Parliament has to limit its deliberation to discussing the short-term Appropriation Bill to allow the government machinery continue to serve Malawians without any party assuming the ruling or opposition party status,” he said.
Thindwa also proposed the suspension of election of Leader of Opposition in Parliament until the determination on the contested presidential elections is delivered by a court of law.
On his part, governance commentator Henry Chingaipe also said the MCP stance was consistent with their position on the legitimacy of the presidency.
He said: “If they choose not to take the opportunity, debate proceeds. However, if they indeed will not respond, then it will be UDF MPs and independents debating the statement.”
MCP and UTM Party have rejected the presidential results, instead calling for nullification and a rerun of the poll in which the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) declared Mutharika as winner amid complaints of irregularities from the two parties.
The two parties were made co-petitioners in the electoral case which continues under the Constitutional Court this Wednesday.
MCP has been holding protests following the presidential results announcement last month.
On June 20, MCP and UTM Party joined nationwide protests organised by civil society organisations demanding the resignation of MEC chairperson Jane Ansah, who is yet to resign.