Feuding President and Ex-President challenge constitution over third term ban to settle scores

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Lawyers for Malawi’s former President Bakili Muluzi will be in court Tuesday to argue that their client is still eligible to stand election despite already having served as president for two consecutive five-year terms.

This follows a challenge by James Phiri, a little-known member of Muluzi’s United Democratic Front (UDF).

Phiri, through his lawyer Christopher Chiphwanya, argued that the laws were clear: No one can stand again as president if he or she has already served two terms. “Besides, it will be a defeat for democracy to allow Dr. Muluzi to stand again as that will encourage life-presidency which Malawians have rejected already,” he said.

But it seems the whole argument will rest on the single word: consecutive. The Constitution, in Section 83 sub-section 3, says the president cannot run again if he or she has already served for two consecutive five-year terms.

Muluzi’s lawyers are splitting hairs here, arguing that the section meant if one serves for two consecutive five-year terms one can ‘bounce back’ after taking a breather of, say, five years – like Muluzi has done, after the two consecutive five-year terms. “We are ready to fight,” said one of Muluzi’s lawyers, Jai Banda.

To fight for his ‘come-back’, Muluzi has hired a battalion of 24 high-profile local and international lawyers.

But analysts say Muluzi’s’come-back’ bid boils down to settling personal scores with President Bingu wa Mutharika.

After the parliament rejected his bid for a third term at the expiry of his constitutional two five-year terms, Muluzi personally anointed the economist-turned-politician as a successor.

But only nine months in office, Mutharika ditched Muluzi’s UDF accusing the former president, the party’s all-powerful national chairman, and UDF leaders of high-level corruption.

The president went ahead to found his own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), thereby virtually banishing the UDF to opposition benches in Parliament despite having just won an election.

Muluzi has publicly vowed to unseat Muluzi. “I cannot fail to deflate a tyre I personally inflated,” he said, alluding to the fact that he single-handedly made Mutharika president.

The UDF has already endorsed Muluzi as its presidential candidate in the scheduled 19 May, 2009 elections despite the haziness in the legibility of his candidature. Panapress .

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