Bakili Muluzi has a point on presidential powers
Honourable Folks, some civil society members looked at how former presidents Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika abused power and came to the conclusion that the solution to our political woes rests in reducing powers of the President.
But Muluzi, himself, disagrees. He thinks the problem is more with democratic institutions meant to check excesses of those entrusted with power, including the President. They are too weak to be effective, he argues.
Who’s right? My take is that the truth is in between. Presidents have shown a propensity to abuse power and usurp the power of the citizens to hold them accountable.
Both the late Bingu wa Mutharika and his predecessor Bakili Muluzi, once entrusted with sovereign authority, did all they could—including amending statutes and constitutional provisions and excessively wielding the so-called presidential prerogative—to intimidate their subordinates and the citizenry into blind submission.
It seems apparent to me that once democracy is used as a means to rise to power through the ballot, the successful contender for the office of the State President, inebriated by power, begins to search for something that made Kamuzu Banda such revered head of state and government—dictatorship.
But it’s not as if the Constitution and the laws of the land have given an elected president so much power. Rather, it is their lack of political will to rule democratically, abiding by the laws of the land in word and spirit, which results in their futile quest for an illusory abode they can perch and play God.
Although Mutharika and Muluzi eventually failed to take Malawi back to dictatorship, they at least left the stage after throwing back at the electorate a Molotov cocktail of shattered economy.
But Muluzi also has a point in blaming the lack of capacity in institutions meant to check excesses in the use of sovereign power by the President.
Although Parliament now has in its Standing Orders the procedure for impeaching a president who violates the Constitution or laws of the land, what we have seen so far may make one conclude that the day MPs will invoke such powers, it will not be so much for upholding the Constitution. Rather, to kick in the teeth a president with minority support in the House, most likely for partisan considerations.
When Muluzi had the numbers in the house, he abused them to change the Constitution and laws at will. In fact, he nearly succeeded in using gullible MPs to change the Constitution and accord him the opportunity to serve open terms.
Mutharika was kept on a short leash during his first term mainly to punish him for ditching UDF. When his DPP garnered enough seats in the 2009 parliamentary polls, it was his turn to abuse supremacy in the House to push through bad laws, change the flag and ensure that local polls which he first postponed in 2005 were never held during his reign.
There is no denying that MPs knew what they were doing was wrong because the same MPs went back to the House after change of government to change the bad laws without a fuss. Had JB decided to continue with Mutharika’s style of leadership, they would simply have served her by making more and more bad laws.
How do we make Parliament rise above partisan interests and remain true to the Constitution and laws of the land? How do we ensure that MPs truly represent the electorate in the House? I believe answers to these questions are the starting point in ensuring that sovereign authority is exercised in the best interest of the electorate.
Finally, we should also look inwards and ask ourselves as citizens whether our actions help the cause of democracy or not. There is never a shortage of an opportunistic member of the clergy to pray for the abuse of power. All leaders are chosen by God, they argue. There are chiefs who see nothing wrong in giving blind support to the government of the day. How do we change the culture and associate patriotism with love for one’s country and not one’s elected leader?
Until ACB can stop a corrupt president from ransacking the economy while still in power, we shall always be victims of fellow humans in whose hands we entrust the sovereign authority.