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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Malawi Government and Lawyers Tussle

President Mutharika stands accused of undermining the judicial system

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Godfrey Maotcha
Godfrey Maotcha
Born and grew up in Blantyre Malawi. Worked for the Guardian ( local newspaper) and Montfort Media for six years. A print and online media house. Currently lives in Lilongwe Malawi

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MALAWI. Lilongwe – President Peter Mutharika of Malawi continues to draw the wrath of both local and international juries, who have accused the leader of intimidating the local justice system.

On June 17 a group of lawyers and concerned citizens held protests in the country’s four cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Zomba, and Mzuzu. Protestors accused the Mutharika administration of forcing the country’s Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda to take leave, facing retirement.

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The country’s Chief Secretary to Government Lloyd Muhara, himself a judge of the High Court, but on secondment to the executive, wrote a letter notifying the public that the Chief Justice was “going on leave.” The letter claimed the highest legal officer in the land had accumulated leave days. However, a June 14 letter of defiance signed by Registrar of the courts Agnes Patemba said a Chief Justice can only leave office when he has attained 65 years of age.

Mutharika, a Yale-trained professor of international law who once taught at the University of Missouri, USA, has openly expressed his displeasure at the way the courts handled the dispute on the May 2019 election. A panel of five constitutional court judges invalidated the results of the presidential election, which struck down Mutharika’s fresh mandate to rule the country. The court gave Mutharika and his estranged Vice President Saulos Chilima authority to run the country by way of a 2014 mandate until fresh polls to be held in 150 days.

Mutharika (left) has shown displeasure with the courts. Photo credit, Malawi media hub
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The president has openly accused the judiciary of plotting what he called a ‘judicial coup.’ Mutharika has made such statements at his political rallies and during the opening of parliament. When opening parliament through a recorded message on June 5, he said, “This parliament respects the courts. But that does not mean that we must agree with every judgment that comes from the courts.”

International bodies such as the International Commission of Jurists, Africa Judges and Jurists Forum, and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights condemned the alleged interference of the independence of the judiciary by authorities. According to Malawi’s constitution, government has three branches with no branch superior to the other. These include the executive branch (president and cabinet), the legislative branch (parliament), and the judicial branch (courts). While the president appoints judges to the judicial branch, once appointed, judges can only be fired by a two-thirds majority vote of parliament.

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