President Peter Mutharika was absent in Parliament and became the first holder of the highest office to address the House via audio feed but his address yesterday plunged the country into a political showdown amid threats of treason and call for Parliament to reverse the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Appeal rulings which nullified his re-election last year.
The opposition had a last ditch attempt to stop the broadcast of the address. They heckled and booed and a few lawmakers walked out but a majority opted to listen to the broadcast in stunned silence after the Speaker Catherine Gotani-Hara ruled against any point of order on the issue.
In the speech, Mutharika threw off the gloves—giving his biggest indication, yet—that he is considering postponing the election in disregard to the court order to hold it within 150 days, after the court ruling on February 3.
After the 150 days’ elapse, Mutharika warned the opposition, he would not accept to be removed from power—even by the courts, describing such a prospect as treason. He then went on to hit out at the Judiciary, chastising the judges for nullifying the elections “without adequate grounds”.
He warned there are no guarantees that future elections will be less marred by irregularities that precipitated the nullification of the May 19 2019 elections.
“Section 83 of the Constitution of Malawi prescribes the foundational constitutional order of this country. According to this Section, ‘The President shall hold office for five years from the date that his or her oath of office was administered, but shall continue in office until his or her successor has been sworn-in’.
“Those of you who are plotting otherwise will be undermining the constitutional order and; therefore, committing treason,” said Mutharika.
He called upon Parliament to rebel against the courts, saying: “I raise these matters because I have one plea to Parliament. For the sake of developing our country, for the sake of the people, let us use our authority to set right what is not right.”
He added: “And let us also admit that we sometimes do what is not right because the court has said so. But let us remember that Parliament is more supreme [and] above the courts. We are elected members who represent the people and we have the authority to make laws for the Judiciary to interpret.”
Mutharika said he was not issuing threats to the judges, saying “no judge in this country must live in fear if you have a clear conscience,” but added, “just do your job right.”
Leader of Opposition Robin Lowe yesterday said Mutharika’s attempts to undermine the fresh elections will not succeed, saying the country will still have the elections as ordered by the court.
“I find it very unfair for the interim President to keep attacking the judges. Unfortunately, the Judiciary has no platform to respond. He is attacking the Judiciary at every rally. But let me assure Malawians, DPP’s time in power is over. We will comply with the court orders and after 150 days, Mutharika will be cornered,” said Lowe.
He said the opposition was aware that the ruling party is seeking to introduce laws to reverse the court rulings, but said the opposition may bring own legislation depending on the situation to ensure the elections are held within the period ordered by court.
Lowe, who was among the MCP lawmakers that attempted to stop the President from addressing the House through a pre-recorded speech, confirmed that the Business Committee of Parliament had agreed for the President to proceed with the recorded speech, but said his point of order focused on the lack of explanation to the chamber on why Mutharika opted to stay away.
He said the Business Committee had given the Presidency three options—a recorded speech, a video teleconference and physical appearance in a waiver to the constitutional requirement for the President to physically appear in the House.