President Peter Mutharika on Saturday gave Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members supporting Vice-President Saulos Chilima’s presidential candidacy what he called ‘one more warning’ before he invokes the law against them, for insulting him.
Mutharika, speaking at Thyolo Boma during his whistle-stop tour, said he is ready to use Section 4 of the Protected Flag, Emblem and Names Act as Malawi laws prevent anyone from insulting the President.
While the group supporting Chilima said it will respond later to Mutharika’s threats, the Malawi Law Society (MLS) has stated that though the President is at liberty to use any law, others might challenge them on the basis that they infringe on people’s freedom of expression.
Said Mutharika: “I am giving them one more warning. This is the last warning, if they continue insulting me, as they did in Lilongwe, there is a limit, ndiwafinya [I will squeeze them]. Section 4 is clear about that.”
Section 4 of the Protected Flag, Emblem and Names Act states that any person who does any act or utters any words or publishes or utters any writing calculated to or liable to insult, ridicule or to show disrespect to or with reference to the President, the National Flag, the Armorial Ensigns, the Public Seal, or any protected emblem or protected likeness, shall be liable to a fine of K250 000 and to imprisonment for two years.
By referring to the law which some sections of Malawians, especially in civil society organisations consider archaic, as they have been campaigning to have them repealed, the President meant the DPP members may likely face arrests if they continued attacking him.
MLS vice-president Alfred Majamanda said in an interview on Saturday that as that law stands, it is applicable and the President is at liberty to lodge a complaint with the police [or any other government agent] to have it applied.
“But with the constitutional dispensation we currently have, people can challenge it on grounds that it infringes on the freedom of expression, but that is debatable,” he said.
Majamanda said there have been trends before where some people have been arrested and prosecuted based on that law.
The President described as ‘disgruntled’ the DPP officials that have declared their support for Chilima, accusing them of turning against him because he did not give them what they wanted.
“One of them has a K400 million debt and he wanted me to give him that money. I can’t do that. I don’t give out money. Some are disgruntled because I fired them as Cabinet ministers.
“Some wanted me to give them businesses fraudulently; I told them I can’t do that. Some stole something, and they wanted my protection,” alleged Mutharika.
The President said the DPP members demanding that he should not stand, told him he was not giving them businesses. He alleged that one of them has a K2.5 billion government contract and is constructing District Commissioner’s offices at Thyolo Boma.
But one of the ‘rebels’ Noel Masangwi, in an interview on Saturday, said their team will respond accordingly to the accusations as they are now already organising their rallies.
The DPP senior members that have come in the open to demand that APM must step down and pave the way for Chilima in the May 2019 elections include Mulanje West legislator Patricia Kaliati, who is also director of women in the party, DPP Blantyre City East legislator Masangwi, who is also the party’s executive member, national director of youth Louis Ngalande and DPP Mulanje South legislator Bon Kalindo.
Ironically, Patricia Kaliati’s husband, Angie—Mulanje Pasani MP—who, during the week, alongside his wife, was a subject of a DPP protest over their alleged support for Chilima, attended one of APM’s rallies on Saturday.
Former first lady Callista Mutharika—widow of DPP founding president and the incumbent President’s elder brother Bingu—sparked the succession debate weeks ago, when she said her in-law, who is 79, should pave the way for the comparatively younger Chilima, 45.
At Luchenza, Mutharika said he does not understand what the DPP officials that have rebelled against him want because he has given them the convention they were demanding.
“They are scared; they know ndikawanyenya [I will give them a whitewash],” challenged Mutharika who was accompanied by some of his legislators and Cabinet ministers.
On Thursday divisions in the DPP reached a new high as Mutharika and DPP members sympathetic to the Vice-President engaged in a verbal tirade 300 kilometres away from each other.
Mutharika used the official government podium in Blantyre Rural at the second ground-breaking ceremony for a 19-kilometre stretch of the 62-kilometre Lirangwe-Chingale-Machinga Road to brand the self-styled Chilima Movement ‘a bunch of cowards’ for allegedly plotting to seek a court order to block the party’s convention set for a yet-to-be-advised date this month.
On the other hand, the Chilima Movement, with Kaliati as the key speaker, addressed the media at Golden Peacock Hotel in Lilongwe where they branded Mutharika as a ‘clueless’ leader and nominated Chilima as their presidential candidate at the convention.
Mutharika has on more than one occasion, including on Saturday, declared he will lead DPP in the elections while Chilima has remained silent on calls for him to vie for the presidency.