Speaker of the National Assembly Richard Msowoya on Tuesday adjourned Parliament proceedings early because of what he called security concerns.
The adjournment came after the arrest of two Malawi Congress Party (MCP) legislators Peter Chakhwantha of Lilongwe South West and Jessie Kabwila of Salima North-West and spokesperson for party as well as Ulemu Msungama, the party’s executive member. Kabwila and Msungama are on police bail, but Chakhwantha’s status was unclear as we went to press.
Addressing an irate House, Msowoya described the two MPs’ arrests as unfortunate and undermines his authority as Speaker.
“I have been well informed of the arrests, and it is unfortunate that as Speaker I cannot guarantee not only the security of myself, but also those of the members of the House. Unless government can assure me of security, I have adjourned the House to tomorrow at 2pm,” he said.
The decision was received with cheers from opposition benches and prompted some MPs to verbally attack the government side for being undemocratic, who described President Peter Mutharikas’ leadership as “dictatorial”.
“You said you would not arrest people without any reason, what are you doing, what is this? Is this not a police State? [Malawi] is a democratic country and we have the right to stop whatever you are trying to do,” shouted one member in the House.
However, Leader of the House Francis Kasaila wondered what kind of assurance Msowoya was talking about. He said it was supposed to be Msowoya to assure members of protection, including MPs from the government side.
Said Kasaila: “I don’t know what he is saying really he belongs to an arm of government, therefore, it is up to him [as part of government] to assure us of [our] security.”
But when asked whether treason suspects can be given a police bail overnight, Kasaila said: “A bail is a right, if the police feel it is necessary, it is up to them.”
Earlier, First Deputy Speaker Esther Mcheka Chilenje ruled against the motion moved by MCP MP for Lilongwe North East Maxwell Thyolera that the House should suspend all government business to resolve issues surrounding the arrests of the two MPs.
“The Constitution is very clear that an MP cannot be arrested during Parliament sitting, what we are seeing is a breach of the Constitution and we are demanding that Chakhwantha, who is currently in police custody, be released immediately,” Thyolera said.