It turned out to be a day of national shame when ugly scenes within and outside Parliament punctuated President Peter Mutharika’s opening of the 2018/19 Budget Meeting in Lilongwe yesterday.
The President’s televised State-of-the-Nation Address (Sona) was interrupted twice, as Speaker Richard Msowoya desperately attempted to bring order in the House By then, scuffles had broken out between police and ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cadets inside the House as heckling between the opposition and government members of Parliament (MPs) spread to the gallery where the ruling party’s cadres were seated.
The main contestation started when opposition and DPP MPs traded barbs inside the chamber, mainly after the former interjected Mutharika’s claim that there is abundant evidence that his administration has made gains in fighting corruption in the country.
The cadets, wanting to outdo the opposition voices and antics, also drowned out the President’s voice as he was making his address.
“Mr. Speaker, Sir, can I have your protection, please,” the President appealed as he temporarily stopped speaking. He later sat through more than seven minutes of embarrassing moments, as the Speaker tried to bring order to the chamber.
When his calls that the President be heard in silence were ignored, the Speaker ordered the Sergeant-at-Arms to remove the DPP supporters who were conspicuously the most defiant. They defied the Sergeant-at-Arms and police officers who helped him, forcing the law enforcers to use force in evicting a few of the cadets.
As some of the cadets were trooping out, they met and beat up Times Television cameraman Douglas Banda, who was capturing the scenes on his cellphone.
Earlier, at the start of the shameful events, Mulanje South MP Patricia Kaliati, who is the party’s national director of women, had to be rescued by police and parliamentary security officers as her own party’s supporters blocked her at the gates of Parliament and threatened to manhandle her.
She later explained that she was being accused of supporting the new movement within the DPP that wants Vice-President Saulos Chilima to replace Mutharika as the torch-bearer in the 2019 Tripartite Elections.
After police, Parliament’s Security Officers allowed her to enter, Kaliati accused some unnamed party officials of sending youths to intimidate her.
Contending that the dirty tactics will only make the Veep more popular, she added: “In fact, the number one supporter of Saulos Chilima is the President himself, who picked him in 2014 to be his running-mate. Why should I be insulted and attacked for supporting the President’s own choice?”
Some top DPP officials could also have made a blunder of turning the neutral Parliament premises into a party zone when they made arrangements for the President to address a party meeting at which traditional dances were to be showcased, according to some dancers who had assembled at the Parliament stadium.
But at the eleventh hour, the meeting was shifted close to Kamuzu Mausoleum where Mutharika briefed the DPP supporters the many accomplishments of his administration, as contained in the Sona he had delivered earlier.
He said the supporters should ignore the recent national demonstrations some civil society organisations (CSOs) had organised that gave him a 90-day ultimatum to correct deemed maladministration in his government.
“They don’t want me to stand again as President in next year’s elections because they want our party to be led by a weaker candidate. Just watch me defeating them all when I stand again in the polls,” the President declared.
Reacting to the Sona and the incidents in the day, People’s Party (PP) leader of the House Ralph Mhone described the events as a day of national shame.
“As a leader of People’s Party in the House, I find the events very saddening. We deplore the behaviour displayed by the DPP cadets.
“It shows there is a lack of discipline in the DPP, that they can disrupt their own president’s speech. As for the House, in terms of parliamentary procedures, the President’s speech is not supposed to be interrupted and we, MPs, too, are supposed to listen to the issues, so that we can respond to what he is saying,” he stated.
Mhone said the party will request the Speaker to deal with the incidents and take proper action.
Minister of Information, and Communications Technology (ICT) Nicholas Dausi said the scenes inside the Chamber were embarrassing. But he refused to acknowledge that the people behind the heckling were DPP supporters.
“Maybe you should ask the party if those are its supporters but from what we have seen, it’s not acceptable and people who come to Parliament have to be taught the right decorum and protocol in the House, so that we should not have a repeat of such moments in the future,” said the minister, who is also government spokesperson.