Lilongwe District Commissioner Paul Kalilombe Monday afternoon denied to grant permission to civil society leaders to hold a five day vigil dubbed “Occupy Parliament” at parliament building in Malawi’s Capital City, Lilongwe. Kalilombe did not give reasons for refusing to give the civil society groups a go-ahead to camp at the legislative house where members of parliament are meeting to make some constitutional amendments including setting procedures for impeaching the vice president. Heavy armed police presence fillied parliament building to swat off the campaigners as early as 07:00 hrs. Malawi Police says the demonstrators did not seek permission to hold their vigil near the parliament buildings. Section 103 of Police Act says demonstrations conducted within any building such as parliament, State House, or a court or at an open ground within radius of 100 meters from such building are prohibited unless authorized by controlling authority of the area. But Speaket of the National Assembly told the demonstrators to go an seek permission from the District Commissioner. Reports indicate that ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of president Bingu wa Mutharika has hatched plans to impeach
Mutharika’s anointed vice president Joyce Banda who fell out of grace with the party in 2010 after declining to endorse the candidature of the president’s young brother, law professor Peter Mutharika to take over the reins of power when the 87 year old economist-turned politician steps out of office in 2014. The members of parliament has since asked Mutharika to raise their salaries to about US$6, 000, a move civil society groups believe to be a ploy by the legislators to arm twist the president in his quest to have his brother succeed him. Leader of the “Occupy Parliament” movement Ben Chiza Mkandawire says civil rights groups are demanding good fiscal and political governance from the Mutharika administration which has been crippled by lack of forex, fuel, water, electricity, and an escalating cost of living. Serious economic problems have rocked the landlocked, southern African nation with unreliable road and rail networks, and high cost of transport adding to the prices of commodities and the upward spiral of the cost of livelihoods.
The civil society also complain of deteriorating political governance which saw the president postponing long over due local governance election to 2014, the downing of tools by university lecturers for eight months in pursuit of academic freedom, the passing of controversial and unpopular bills by the DPP dominated parliament including an amendment of Penal Code Section 46, which gives a cabinet minister the power to ban newspapers in the public interest, the change to the Police Act permitting the police to search properties without a warrant, the Civil Procedures Act that gives government three days to respond to an injunction filed against it, the Local Courts Act threatens to bring back the kangaroo courts of the repressive ‘traditional courts’. The civil rights groups have been calling on Mutharika to mend fences with the donor community especially Britain, Malawi’s biggest and traditional donor following a leaked communication between British High Commissioner to Malawi Cochran Dyte and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London which described Mutharika as increasingly becoming ‘undemocratic and intolerant to criticism’. The leaked cable subsequently led to the expulsion of the British top diplomat from the African nation.
Following the fallout with Britain, the country’s other donor partners have withheld aid and by mid year no Budget Support had been pledged for 2011-12 National Budget forcing the government to adopt a Zero Deficit Budget which intends to generate resources from local sources including increased taxation and duties expected to cover recurrent expenditure which have since been biting the poor masses. On July 20, civil society members launched a national wide protest demonstration against poor economic and political governance and petitioned the government to address twenty pertinent issues. 20 demonstrators were killed by armed police during the demonstrations. As the living conditions continued to deteriorate, rights leaders called for a three day vigil starting on September 17. Government heeded and said it would address the issues raised. By November signs begun showing that government was hoodwinking the rights groups by not addressing most of their July 20 concerns leading to fresh plans to stage “Occupy Parliament” campaign. Mkandawire says lawyers are in the courts trying to fight against Kalilombe’s anti-demonstration position challenging that Malawians have a constitutional right to demonstrate.
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