The United Democratic Front (UDF), has recently been in the news over the eligibility of its National Chairman Bakili Muluzi to contest in the forth-coming general elections. The party also took a swipe at President Bingu wa Mutharika's controversial proroguing of parliament. Our Reporter Rex Chikoko met UDF spokesperson Sam Mpasu and sought the party's position on a number of issues. Excerpts:
Some concerned citizens intend to take the issue of Bakili Muluzi's eligibility to contest the 2009 presidential elections to court, as a party what is your stand on the issue?
We, in the UDF, are very surprised that matters that are internal to UDF are attracting so much attention outside the UDF. I can assure you that Mr Ben Phiri and his company have absolutely nothing to do with the UDF. We have been solving our problems and the party has been in existence for over 15 years now. Naturally the UDF is a Malawi party so whatever would happen to UDF, many of its members in the UDF would be affected, but what I can assure you is that we have a [Republican] Constitution that clearly demarcates lines of responsibility and the judiciary in this country is responsible for the interpretation of the law. I may have my own view and everybody else might have his own views. It does not matter, what matters is what the judiciary says.
In the interest of UDF followers was it not necessary for the party to come up with a final position on this issue?
This issue is coming, apparently, just because our National Chairman Dr Bakili Muluzi has got his name mentioned by some people within the party urging him to go and stand for the presidential candidature elections at the forth coming UDF convention. And we are saying, according to our constitution, anyone who wants to contest for the position of the president, is free to do so but there are procedures to be followed, first you should submit one's name to the National Executive on a proper nomination form for the National Executive to vet, in other words for them to certify that you are indeed a bonafide member of the UDF and it is the National Executive Committee that will forward that name to the convention. It is the convention that elects the presidential candidate so right now I do not understand why everyone is foaming and threatening, we have not yet gone to the convention and people are talking about courts and so forth, this is crazy.
You mentioned the convention, when is the party holding one?
We planned to have the convention in April last year, naturally nothing worked, we had our problems. The then Acting National Chairman Dr. Cassim Chilumpha was charged with treason and we had a lot of other problems, so we postponed. There is a working committee now which is still looking at the convention issue, they have made tentative recommendations that the convention should be held on 16 November [this year] but their recommendations have not been discussed by the National Executive Committee to either approve or modify.
As we are going towards the 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections, what is the UDF strategy?
I cannot tell you the strategy now, we will come up with a strategy. Much of it will be in secret and confidential. Our programme will come out in our manifesto document which will be a public document.
There is a belief that some people who were expected to contest against Muluzi in UDF are working with Concerned Citizen to take the matter of Muluzi’s eligibility to court. What is the position of the party?
Anyone who is giving out the impression that UDF is divided, that some UDF people are working with bodies outside the UDF is talking nonsense. It is a cheap trick to divide the UDF and it cannot work. We are totally capable of solving our own problems if there are problems.
It has been noticed that Muluzi is frequenting his visits to the United Kingdom, some people say he is going there to meet possible financiers of UDF, how would you explain these two issues?
Dr. Muluzi, like every Malawians, is perfectly entitled to go wherever he wants to go, to take a holiday whenever he wants and to have friends wherever he has. I do not think this is a matter for political speculations or political insinuations, he makes private trips when he wants to. I do not think anybody has got a moral right to ask why does he do this.
There is a belief that UDF as a party has got no money and it is Muluzi who has got money and it is also said Muluzi is financing MCP president John Tembo, would you please enlighten us the position of party finances and Muluzi's relationship with Tembo?
Why don’t you talk, in those terms, about 30 something political parties that we have in the country? Why should UDF always be connected to money, money money. Everyone knows that UDF, like any other party, in parliament, gets a lot of money from parliament, from the state. Is that money coming from Dr. Muluzi's pockets? Regarding financing of MCP that is utter nonsense, there is no reason Dr. Muluzi, either as an individual or a party leader, would give money to another political party. I have heard about this, not only about Dr. Muluzi but a lot others. It is wrong. There is no way the UDF would give money to others, we have got our own needs, we got district, regional, secretariat offices to run, we do not have money to spare for others. This is mere speculation, MCP gets money from parliament, it is the largest party in parliament why would they need any money from UDF?
Is there a departure in the relationship between the UDF and MCP as evident in the way the two parties have handled the issue of proroguing of parliament? UDF has taken the matter to court while MCP said would rather leave the Speaker to handle the issue.
I do not think you should read too much into this. UDF and MCP are not the only parties in opposition, there are several other parties in the opposition and we do not always work as coalition partners, we are not one party, we are different parties, so it is natural that we have different solutions to a problem, we have chosen to go to the court because we think President Mutharika abused his constitutional prerogative, he did not consult the speaker.
As a former speaker, how different would you have handled the issue of proroguing of parliament? or where do you think the president got it wrong?
The president got it wrong, he should have known the meaning of prorogue. Apparently he did not know, because if he had known , he would have known that he is ending the entire session of parliament, he should have, if he wanted, consulted the speaker, and the speaker has got legal resources and he would have been properly advised. The effect of proroguing is that the whole session has been brought to an end. And had he consulted the Minister of Finance what was at stake, Honorable Goodall Gondwe would have, certainly, advised him against proroguing on the day he did.
The president has called upon the speaker to resign following the issue surrounding Malawi-Mozambique electricity connection bill, what is the position of the UDF on the issue?
The president is trying to push the blame to the speaker and it is unfair. This is what he did with Ishmail Wadi and Gustave Kaliwo. There isn't anyway Speaker [Louis] Chimango and Clerk of Parliament [Maltida] Katopola could have prepared those presidential documents on their own, forwarded them to the president Mutharika and Mutharika signing those documents without realizing the full legal implications. What I believe has happened is that the President has realized that he has put himself in a very very embarrassing situation, he is a party to a fraud. To pretend that a law was passed is a big smudge on the government’s integrity. The World Bank is a very important lender all over the world and no government has ever- ever attempted to commit a fraud on them, and had this gone, this country would have been in terrible, unimaginable situation. And I have a feeling the President intends to set up Chimango as a scapegoat to save his face.
There is a general feeling that the political situation in the country would retard development and that sometimes the President is forced to make those decisions because of the political situation in the country, what is your take?
You do not commit a crime, you do not commit fraud because there is political bickering, it is just not on, here is a President who was duly elected and sworn in, he swore to protect the constitution. He has no excuse for violating the constitution. He has, not only moral, but constitution authority, to uphold the laws of this country. So there is excuse for him, political problems have to be solved politically and he must know how to solve them.
Thanks for the interview, is there anything you would wish to discuss?
I do appreciate that a number of Malawians and a large number of your reader are interested in what is happening in UDF, We do appreciate that, but we do have interests to protect so we do urge the press to assist as in disseminating the truth, not speculations. We have spokesperson, we have officials channels and we are ready to answer any question.