A controversial constitutional amendment bill to allow President Bakili Muluzi of Malawi to run for a third term, which was rejected by parliament earlier this month, is refusing to die.
Leaders of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) agreed over the weekend at a special meeting in Blantyre to field no other candidate in 2004 except Muluzi, and resubmit the original private member's bill as a government bill.
"There will be two changes to it. This time the bill will be introduced in the house as a government bill. And secondly, instead of an Open Term Bill, it will propose that the president be allowed to serve for a third term," said a delegate who attended the meeting.
"I think that this whole matter is a waste of time and public resources," the delegate added. "It will just expose the president to needless contempt and ridicule. I cannot see either MCP or Aford [the opposition Malawi Congress Party and Alliance for Democracy] supporting the bill any more strongly than they did last time."
The ruling UDF party has 96 seats in the 193-seat parliament and required a two-thirds majority for the constitutional amendment to be passed. The bill, presented by an AFORD MP, failed by only three votes.
"This bill is not about the third term of office, it is not even about eroding our democracy. It is about empowering our people even more by enabling them to chose the president of their choice," said AFORD MP Khwauli Msiska who presented the proposed amendment.
Regional governor for the South province, Davis Kapito, told a rally addressed by Muluzi on Sunday that it was the will of the majority that Muluzi should be allowed one more five-year term to complete his development programmes.
"We're not saying we should have an open term, no, that is not good. We have gathered information that those MPs who voted against the bill feared that if Muluzi goes, there will be somebody with an evil heart who will come as president to stay," Kapito said at the rally in Mulanje West, 60-km east of Blantyre.
The UDF's decision to resuscitate the third term issue has met with condemnation from opposition parties and some members of civil society.
"If the UDF cannot find another leader, then they should disband the party," said AFORD vice-president Du Mhango.
Brown Mpinganjira, the leader of the pressure group National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and a former senior UDF minister commented: "This is typically a UDF problem. If the party is failing to attract young blood and if it has not prepared anyone in the past eight years, then what would happen if Muluzi dropped dead today?"
"The anxiety that gripped the nation in anticipation of the outcome of the 4 July parliamentary debate on the proposal to amend Section 83 (3) of our sacred book, the Malawi constitution, is still lingering in the minds of many a people," said Faustace Chirwa, Director of Women's Lobby, a local NGO.
"We still believe that even if the bill was defeated by one vote, two-thirds majority would still have not been achieved according to the constitution. It is not the numbers but the principle behind the whole idea of amending Section 83 (3)
of the constitution that is the bone of contention," she added.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions