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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
08LILONGWE159
2008-03-14 10:28:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Lilongwe
Cable title:  

MALAWI: SPEAKER A RELUCTANT MEDIATOR BETWEEN

Tags:   PGOV  KDEM  MI 
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VZCZCXRO4891
RR RUEHDU RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHLG #0159/01 0741028
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 141028Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY LILONGWE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5126
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION WASHINGTON DC
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 LILONGWE 000159 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/S - E. PELLETREAU
MCC FOR DEIDRA FAIR

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/13/2018
TAGS: PGOV KDEM MI
SUBJECT: MALAWI: SPEAKER A RELUCTANT MEDIATOR BETWEEN
OPPOSITION AND GOM

REF: 07 LILONGWE 715

LILONGWE 00000159 001.2 OF 003


Classified By: DCM KEVIN SULLIVAN FOR REASONS 1.4 (B,D)



1. (C) Summary: Despite public pressure to call the next
session of the National Assembly, National Assembly Speaker
Louis Chimango remains stuck between President Mutharika, who
wants to further delay implementation of Section 65, and the
opposition, which demands immediate action on the
controversial provision to penalize floor-crossers. While
publicly silent over the past six months, Chimango has
quietly attempted to bring together opposition and government
to discuss the next session of Parliament, but to no avail.
Chimango's interactions with the government and position as
messenger of the government's position to the opposition has
handicapped his ability to play mediator and increased
distrust even among his own party. While the Malawi Law
Society has agreed with the government, stating that legal
injunctions still prevent the Speaker from vacating seats of
floor-crossers, Chimango says the uncertainty over the
legality of section 65 cannot continue until the May 2009
elections. The Speaker appealed to emboffs to support
dialogue between government and opposition, and suggested
using a group of prominent local clergy as mediators -- a
tactic that ultimately failed during the last round of
political negotiations. The U.S. Mission will explore this
alternative, but is somewhat reluctant to relieve Malawian
leaders of their own responsibilities. End Summary.

Speaker's Public Silence Draws Suspicion...


--------------------------





2. (SBU) Since President Mutharika dismissed Parliament in
September, local NGO's, the media, and opposition leaders
have increasingly called on the Speaker of the National
Assembly (ref A), Louis Chimango, to convince the president
to convene a new legislative session. The president has
refused to call for parliament because of uncertainty about
whether and how the Speaker would implement section 65 of the
constitution. Section 65 appears to stipulate that the seats
of approximately 40 MPs who crossed the floor to join
Mutharika's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) would have to
be vacated and refilled through new elections. Chimango,
himself a life-long member of the Malawi Congress Party
(MCP), has largely kept quiet on the matter, not seeking to
directly confront the President. Both the United Democratic
Front (UDF) and his own party have publicly charged that the
speaker's lack of action is a sign of support for the GOM.
Some in the UDF have even called for Chimango's resignation
over the matter. Media have gone further and portrayed
Chimango as being in league with Mutharika, including one
paper speculating that Mutharika had offered Chimango the
vice-presidency in 2009 in exchange for Chimango's support on

the section 65 matter, a claim Chimango vigorously denied and
which some attribute to the MCP.


But Speaker Confirms He Has Been Working Behind the Scenes


--------------------------



--------------------------





3. (C) On March 12, Chimango met with emboffs to discuss the
current situation and described numerous attempts to convince
Mutharika to call a new session of Parliament. Chimango said
the business committee of the National Assembly called two
meetings to discuss the next session, but government
representatives did not attend. In December, Chimango penned
a letter to the president to request a session of Parliament
but received no reply. A second letter followed in January,
but also went unanswered. In February, after several media
stories featuring prominent opposition members saying "no
section 65, no parliament" appeared, Mutharika countered in a
nationally broadcast press conference that if the opposition
insists on section 65 then government would not convene for
Parliament, creating a public stalemate. Chimango told
emboffs that he had gone to meet the President Mutharika to
discuss the issue in late February, and had been given
messages to carry to opposition leaders concerning the
President's conditions for calling a new session. The
Speaker indicated that he had delivered the messages to both
the UDF and MCP, but was not optimistic that the initiative
would prosper. He added that he viewed such mediation as
outside his constitutional mandate, which includes only
refereeing in Parliamentary sessions themselves.
Nonetheless, in the absence of alternatives, he had agreed to
transmit the President's proposals.



4. (C) In a separate March 12 meeting with the Ambassador,
Henry Chimunthu-Banda, the GOM's leader in the National

LILONGWE 00000159 002.2 OF 003


Assembly and one of Mutharika's closest advisors, confirmed
the presidential meeting with Chimango took place.
Chimunthu-Banda said that Mutharika indicated to Chimango in
the meeting that there were still court injunctions in place
to prevent the Speaker from legally implementing section 65,
a position with which Chimango privately concurred. This
meant, according to Mutharika, that there would be little
purpose and significant down-side risk in terms of the public
standing of the National Assembly in calling for Parliament
as long as the opposition insisted on dealing with section 65
before other matters. Chimunthu-Banda contended that after
last summer's contentious budget session, a new session
fraught with controversy would just incite further division
and turmoil in Malawi. Chimunthu-Banda also stated that
Chimango told Mutharika he agreed that he could not currently
legally implement Section 65.

Parliament Must Meet Regardless


--------------------------





5. (C) Chimango did not go as far in his discussion with
emboffs, instead arguing that both sides should trust him to
perform his duty properly concerning Section 65. Chimango
agreed with opposition statements that the Constitution
requires a minimum of two sessions of Parliament per year,
and said that it should have in fact hold more to deal with
all pending business. He further said that Section 65 cannot
continue to be an issue until the 2009 elections. On March
12, the Malawi Law Society (MLS), the Malawi equivalent of
the Bar Association, released a statement agreeing with
Chimunthu-Banda's assessment and confirming that "stay
orders" (but not injunctions) preventing action on Section 65
were still in the courts, and that the Speaker cannot legally
declare seats vacant in Parliament. At the same time, the
MLS maintained that nothing in the courts was preventing the
President and Speaker from calling a session of Parliament to
conduct other business, putting the onus back on the
government and the opposition to resolve their political
dispute. Chimango told emboffs that his bottom-line
assessment was the same: Parliament must meet, and must meet
soon, regardless of Section 65.

Pessimistic Speaker Wants Help with Mediation


--------------------------





5. (C) Chimango told emboffs that government and opposition
leaders are still not talking, and there is a desperate need
for communication between the two to resolve the impasse.
Chimango commented that he had recently sent letters to both
Chimunthu-Banda and John Tembo, the leader of the opposition
in Parliament, about resolving the issue but lamented that
his role as the messenger of the government position on the
matter has increased opposition distrust of him (including,
according to Chimunthu-Banda, the MCP-inspired disinformation
regarding Chimango's possible selection as Bingu's choice for
Vice President). Chimango said that this growing distrust
has damaged his ability to play mediator in the dispute.
Chimango said he would like to see foreign aid donors get
more involved in the political and governance issues in
Malawi, in particular through discussions with the GOM on the
need for flexibility. The Speaker appealed for urgent
initiative along these lines, since time for a second
Parliamentary session prior to the budget session was running
out, and he feared an erosion in respect for the rule of law
in the country.



6. (C) He also suggested that a group of prominent local
religious leaders could use their moral stature to make
progress in the dispute. He also stressed that it would be
crucial for any such group to include a prominent Catholic
leader since Mutharika is a Catholic. A previous attempt at
religious mediation in 2007 had foundered when Mutharika
claimed that a narrower group of clerics had not been fully
representative. (The German Agency for Technical
Cooperation's (GTZ) Forum for Dialogue and Peace project
quietly supported this group.)



6. (C) Comment: Chimango's message was clear: he believes
outside mediation is needed to resolve the current political
impasse. In the past month, pressure from elite
opinion-makers including prominent NGOS has grown for some
solution to bring Parliament back into session, but both the
GOM and opposition leaders may believe that principled
stonewalling will ultimately be more politically beneficial
to them than compromise. We intend to explore with other
Western embassies Chimango's suggestion that the U.S. and
other donors can facilitate dialogue, perhaps in support of
the clerics group. We are somewhat reluctant to relieve

LILONGWE 00000159 003.2 OF 003


Malawian leaders of their own responsibilities, however. End
Comment.
EASTHAM