Two people have been killed, and leading members of a lobby group opposed to a third term for President Bakili Muluzi have either been arrested, or face arrest, as political tensions rise in Malawi.
Behind the crisis is a failed attempt in July to change the constitution to allow Muluzi to run for a third term of office. The lobby group the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and human rights NGOs and churches, oppose a third term for Muluzi.
Police Inspector-General Joseph Aironi said the NDA's leader, Brown Mpinganjira, faced arrest in connection with the murder of a ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) member after clashes between supporters of the NDA and UDF two weeks ago in Mulanje, 60 km east of Blantyre.
Mpinganjira allegedly fled Malawi after being implicated, Aironi said.
"Out of the investigations we are carrying out, some members of the NDA have mentioned the Honourable Mpinganjira. It is reported that it was the very same day we started our inquiries he left the country. And this has been confirmed by the airport at Chileka [Blantyre]," Aironi said in an interview with local radio.
"In this case, Mpinganjira's behaviour shows that he had foresight into what was going to happen," said Aironi, and added that the police, assisted by Interpol, would track him down and arrest him as an accomplice to murder.
Mpinganjira, a former senior minister in the UDF government, has been in and out of prison on charges of corruption and treason, which the courts have dismissed.
Viva Nyimba, a lawyer for the NDA, alleged that there was a state-sponsored campaign aimed at discrediting the organisation.
Nyimba said the NDA had written to the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), asking it to investigate allegations of violence against its supporters, one of whom was allegedly killed by shots fired by police.
Mpinganjira recently escaped an attack on his motorcade. Several opposition members of parliament and chiefs who have opposed the third term bid have allegedly been assaulted by militant ruling party youths.
MHRC executive secretary Emiliana Tembo told IRIN that the commission had received the NDA's complaint, and would investigate the allegations.
A report would be made public once investigations were completed.
Two weeks ago Muluzi warned the NDA to register as a political party within 14 days, or face a ban for inciting violence in the country.
"[The] NDA was formed on the premise that we are going to fight against the third-term bid. Until and unless that matter is finished, we'll not register, because it means we have not finished our business," an NDA spokesman, Ian Kanyuka, told reporters in the southern city of Blantyre.
Police plans to arrest Mpinganjira, Kanyuka said, were an attempt to shift the focus from the third-term issue.
Two weeks ago, Minister of Justice Henry Phoya said the government would again table a bill proposing to amend the constitution to allow Muluzi to run for a third and final term of five years, when parliament sits in October.
A similar private member's bill failed by three votes in July this year.
To amend the constitution the ruling UDF, with 96 seats in the 193-seat parliament, needs the support of members of the opposition to attain a two-thirds majority.
Robson Chitengo of the Church of Central Africa Presbytery said the church was totally against the idea of retabling the constitutional amendment bill.
Muluzi has so far maintained an official silence on the third-term issue. But his party leaders have used every public platform to announce that the people of Malawi wanted him to continue ruling the country.
"It is sad that the head of state has not commented on such an important issue that is pivotal to the democratic future of this country," Chitengo said.
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
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