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Cabinet appointments shake up political alignment

[Malawi] Malawian President Bakili Muluzi
President Muluzi's deputy has defected (BBC News)

Malawian President Bakili Muluzi has appointed five new cabinet ministers from opposition ranks, among them a new vice president.

Muluzi dissolved his cabinet last week, just days after announcing he was giving up his bid to seek a third term in office, and named Bingu wa Mutharika as his successor. For the IRIN report go to: www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=33250

Chakufwa Chihana, president of the opposition Alliance for Democracy (Aford), was appointed the country's second-vice president, while a further four members of his party joined the cabinet on Wednesday night. Chihana had recently announced he would not run for president in 2004, and was not opposed to Muluzi serving beyond the constitutional limit of two terms.

Two veteran ministers with apparent presidential aspirations, former agriculture and environmental affairs ministers Aleke Banda and Harry Thomson, were omitted from the new cabinet.

Also dropped was former attorney-general and justice minister, Henry Phoya.

The announcement of the new "government of national unity" was significant, given that the country was gearing up for general elections in 2004, analysts told IRIN.

"[Muluzi] is rewarding the proponents of the third term and [attempting] to reduce the influence of [those opposed to it]," said political scientist Chijere Chirwa.

Khwauli Msiska, one of the Aford MPs appointed to the new cabinet, had earned derision from opposition ranks when he introduced a bill in the national assembly proposing an amendment to the constitutional limits on presidential terms. The bill failed.

Muluzi's appointment of opposition members to the cabinet may "cause much greater division" in the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF). "The rift in UDF is going to widen [because] it's a betrayal of the people he's been with all this time," Chirwa said.

Muluzi also moved the Speaker of the National Assembly, Sam Mpasu, to the cabinet as minister of commerce and industry.

Senior law lecturer, Fidelis Kanyongolo, said of Mpasu's appointment: "Personally, I would regard it as a demotion."

"The fact that he's appointed minister, [means] he ceases to be speaker. He cannot be both. Right now we don't have a speaker of the national assembly. The provisions of separation of powers demand that he ceases [to be speaker] immediately," Kanyongolo noted.

In response to the seeming alliance between the ruling party and Aford, other opposition parties have begun discussions on possibly fielding a single presidential candidate in 2004.

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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