Chilima has 1 term left, implications on MCP, UTM coalition

Saulos Chilima

The wording of the Malawi Constitution has on more than one occasion begged for interpretation from our learned colleagues in the judiciary.

In the latest instance, the Constitutional Court in delivering its judgement that nullified Malawi’s 2019 presidential election result, interpreted the word ‘majority’ in Section 80 (2) of the country’s supreme law to mean securing 50 plus one percent of the votes cast.

In doing so, they overturned an earlier ruling that said a majority simply meant the first one past the post.

In 2009, Malawi’s former president Bakili Muluzi, seeking to spring back to Sanjika also petitioned the court to try and explain what  the Constitution meant by two ‘consecutive terms’.

In his understanding, which I think makes sense, consecutive meant one after the other. To him, a person could serve as President for two consecutive terms, take a breather, put their feet up, probably on a beach front somewhere and contemplate a comeback, if they so wished.

Muluzi essentially sought to be allowed to bring back some of his charisma to the Presidency having earned a five-year rest.

But the court ruled otherwise, it said: "A person who serves two consecutive terms, as the first applicant [Muluzi]  did, would have served the maximum.

"When one serves one term and decides not to re-run, or fails at the polls, he or she would be eligible to run again and be elected as a president after the break. Should he or she serve the second term after a break, he or she would have served the maximum. Thus becomes ineligible to run again as president, first vice president or second vice president."

The court went on to extend their interpretation to those holding the position of Second Vice President and Vice President.

"Ordinarily, a vice president would be eligible to contest for the office of the president when the president’s tenure comes to an end. However, our Constitution bars this. If this were not so, one could, in ascending order, be a second vice president, then be a first vice president and then the president, or, in descending order, be the president, first vice president and then the second vice president.

"This, in effect, would have permitted a person to serve the presidency for thirty years or more. In this respect the phrase: “in their respective capacities,” bars an officer even when he changes capacity between the offices," read the judicial review.

Thus the ruling bars anyone from holding the position of second vice president, vice president or indeed President beyond two terms.

As per that ruling, Malawi’s Vice President Saulos Chilima has one more term left on his ticket, having served Malawians from 2014.

For a while now, Malawians having been urging their major political parties most of whose ideologies are similar anyway to go into an alliance to secure a vote representative of their wishes.

Some argue this would galvanise ideas of a united Malawi, while others see it as encouraging a marriage of convenience, destined for the rocks.

When he left the Democratic Progressive Party, Chilima told Malawians it was because he and the party were pulling in different directions.

Could it also be that knew about the implications of the 2009 Court ruling ahead of those who just realised that he only has one more term left?

Those who have been following Malawian politics, will recall, that it was rumoured that incumbent President Peter Mutharika promised Chilima that he would only rule for one term and that there after the law professor would relinquish power to the deputy.

But with 2019 approaching, word had it that Mutharika would be seeking re-election, as the Malawi Constitution allows him to.

Mutharika’s re-election bid with Chilima as his running mate again would have meant that the former Airtel Malawi CEO, will never be President of Malawi, without having to challenge in the Supreme Court of Appeal, the decision of the lower court that says he has a maximum of two terms.

The Chewa say fudyo wako ndi uyo ali pa mphuno (a bird in hand is worth two in the bush), meaning, what Chilima has now is the opportunity to serve Malawians for one more term only. One cannot count of the Justices of Appeal whose decision could swing either way.

Will he serve in the same portfolio again in an alliance or carry on with his dreams of becoming Malawi’s president?

Well, although the idea of a Malawi Congress Party and UTM Party coalition are being mentioned on political party podiums and in traditional and on social media platforms, neither party’s followers have been keen to see its leader featured as the running mate.

Understandly so, because even for MCP president, Lazarous Chakwera, the party’s constitution only allows him to represent it on a ballot for a maximum of two terms. The May 19, 2020 presidential election re-run is, therefore, his final chance.

But a party constitution as some analysts argues is not cast in stone, it can always be changed at the convention, which means Chakwera has a slim chance of running for a third term.

However, having been in opposition since 1994, the MCP is raring to go back into power and with the following it commands, particularly in Parliament where it has over 50 seats and the UTM four, the party feels like it has a chance.

Although Chilima has said his party is open to coalitions, he has also hinted that the UTM is not in any hurry to do so. That could also mean they might choose to wait it out until the opportunity of a re-run beckons.

Chilima has also said his party will do what is in the best interests of Malawians, whatever that will imply.