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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
07LILONGWE512
2007-07-02 15:44:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Lilongwe
Cable title:  

COURT INJUNCTION PUTS BRAKES ON FLOOR-CROSSING

Tags:   PGOV  KDEM  MI 
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VZCZCXRO1240
RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHLG #0512/01 1831544
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 021544Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY LILONGWE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4400
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHSA/AMEMBASSY PRETORIA 2624
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEHLMC/MCC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEPGDA/USEUCOM JIC VAIHINGEN GE
RUEPGCA/USEUCOM AIDES VAIHINGEN GE
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 LILONGWE 000512 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR AF/S
STATE FOR INR/AA RITA BYRNES
PRETORIA FOR ROBERT POPE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM MI
SUBJECT: COURT INJUNCTION PUTS BRAKES ON FLOOR-CROSSING
PROVISION--FOR NOW

REF: LILONGWE 468

LILONGWE 00000512 001.2 OF 002




1. (SBU) Summary: In an electric atmosphere charged with
political tension, Parliament resumed its annual budget
session on June 29 with Malawi's floor-crossing provision at
the top of the agenda. In an announcement that caught the
opposition off-guard, the Speaker of Parliament opened the
session by stating that he had been served with a High Court
injunction restricting him from implementing the
controversial provision prohibiting 'crossing the floor'
(reftel). Despite complaints from the opposition, the House
moved on to pass a continuing resolution authorizing spending
for the first month of the 2007/2008 financial year, through
July 31. Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe also presented the
2007/08 budget proposal, kicking off the month-long process
of passing the next financial year's annual budget. But
despite the momentary focus on budgetary matters, the
opposition now plans to push to suspend parliamentary
proceedings until the Speaker is able to act on Section 65.
Once implemented by the Speaker, the floor-crossing
prohibition could lead to around forty government MPs losing
their seats in Parliament. End Summary.



2. (SBU) At the resumption of the budget session on June 29,
after the month-long period of mourning following the death
of First Lady Ethel Mutharika, the opposition had expected
Speaker of Parliament Louis Chimango to announce his plans
for implementing the constitution's provision prohibiting
"crossing the floor" in Parliament. The provision, which was
upheld by the Supreme Court in a ruling on June 15, 2007
(reftel), empowers the Speaker to declare vacant the seats of
around forty government MPs who switched parties after the
2004 general elections. However, Chimango announced that
those MPs who would potentially be affected had obtained an
injunction preventing the Speaker from taking any action
concerning Section 65. The government MP who spearheaded the
effort told PolOff he thought it would take up to three weeks
for lawyers representing the Speaker to vacate the injunction.



3. (SBU) After his announcement, the Speaker quickly pushed
the House towards discussion of the continuing resolution
required to keep government afloat after the end of the
2006/07 financial year on June 30. Finance Minister Gondwe
proposed originally that the House pass a $32 million
four-month continuing resolution, but the opposition insisted
on a one-month $8 million resolution. This should position
the opposition to be able to put pressure on the government
if a full budget is not passed by July 31, as many observers
expect. The amended resolution was then easily passed by the
House.



4. (SBU) Gondwe also presented his annual budget statement on
the 29th, outlining the government's plans to spur economic
development by encouraging domestic investment and cutting
inflation down from 7.5 to 5 percent. The budget proposal
also included a number of controversial details, including a
10-fold increase in the wages given to paramount chiefs (from
$35 a month to $357 a month) and a lower-than-expected cut in
income taxes on low-paid wage earners. Opposition leaders
will now be given an opportunity to comment on the budget
proposal before Parliament goes into general debate on the
budget.



5. (SBU) Comment: This sitting of Parliament is particularly
volatile due to the recent court ruling on Section 65, and
the uncertainty it has created. While the Supreme Court's
ruling is fairly clearly laid out, it leaves a number of
issues up in the air. For example, the court's ruling did
not address whether MPs who were elected under the
sponsorship a party which was then dissolved should lose
their seats. The Court also failed to address a clause of
the law which states that MPs who join political
organizations outside of parliament put their seats in
jeopardy. Both the government and opposition have used these
vagaries to claim that all of their political opponents have
lost their seats in parliament, including a particularly
far-fetched government claim that the Speaker of Parliament
has lost his seat because of his involvement in the SADC
Parliamentary Forum, which they say is a "political
organization". While these interpretations of the

LILONGWE 00000512 002.2 OF 002


floor-crossing section would surely not hold up in court,
having them referred to the courts is precisely the aim of
the government, which hopes to delay any implementation of
the section as long as possible.



6. (SBU) For its part, the opposition is intent on the
Speaker moving quickly, with the expectation that the loss of
forty government MPs would give the opposition parties an
overwhelming two-thirds majority in parliament, thus
empowering the combined opposition to exercise unfettered
legislative power. This could include, as was discussed in
late 2005, impeaching President Mutharika and amending the
constitution to enable opposition leaders to head the
executive branch without benefit of elections. However, the
most likely outcome is still a long, protracted legal battle
over which MPs will lose their seats, with many observers
expecting the matter to again have to be put before the
Supreme Court for resolution. End Comment.

EASTHAM