Former governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has described yesterday’s election of Mulanje Central legislator Kondwani Nankhumwa as Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP) as a vain effort.
In an interview last evening, DPP spokesperson Brown Mpinganjira said the election, conducted by embattled secretary general Grezelder Jeffrey, was meaningless because the decision was not made by the entire party.
He said: “Whatever happened today is meaningless because Parliamentary Standing Order 35 which they were quoting says that the party will elect, it did not say MPs only will elect. The party constitutes more people than just MPs.
“It is irrelevant. It is a sham and the party will have to make the election.
“The party will be taking corrective measures. That’s not a big deal. Very soon the party will make its position on the matter clear. We are very aware of the requirement of the law.”
Mpinganjira was reacting to the purported election of Nankhumwa with 48 votes against four for Nsanje Central legislator Francis Kasaila, the preferred choice of DPP leader and the country’s immediate past president Peter Mutharika.
In an interview yesterday, Nankhumwa said the election was conducted following direction by First Deputy Speaker of Parliament Madalitso Kazombo on Wednesday that DPP should conduct an election and submit the name of the elected LoP.
Kazombo’s decision followed communication from Mutharika that Kasaila should replace Nankhumwa as LoP. However, rising on a point of order immediately after the announcement, Mulanje West member of Parliament (MP) Yusuf Nthenda said as a legislator of the party’s he did not participate in the process of choosing the LoP.
He said: “Mr First Deputy Speaker, Sir. I am standing on Standing Order 35 as read together with Standing Order 36 and 3. As a bonafide member of the Democratic Progressive Party, I did not participate in the election of the Leader of Opposition who has been proposed.”
Parliamentary Standing Order 35 (1) provides that the LoP “shall be elected by the party not in government having the greatest numerical strength in Parliament at any point in time and officially announced as such by the Speaker”.
In terms of removal, Standing Order 36 says the LoP may be removed by the opposition side in Parliament “through a caucus of all members of the opposition side”.
In an interview, Nankhumwa said his election followed the due process and that there was a quorum despite some of the party’s legislators not taking part.
He said: “This election took place following the direction by the Speaker that per Standing Orders of Parliament, the Leader of Opposition needs to be elected and not appointed.”
Ironically, Mutharika also appointed Nankhumwa into the role in June this year after losing the court-ordered June 23 Fresh Presidential Election, a development that pushed DPP to the opposition side.
Nankhumwa yesterday insisted that the fact that the party’s secretary general presided over the election enhanced its credibility.
He said: “The good part is the elections were presided over by the party’s secretary general so it is my hope she will advise the party and help in mending fences.”
Nankhumwa’s victory excited some legislators on the government side who openly cheered him as he walked into Parliament.
One of the parliamentarians, Ishmael Onani (Dedza South), said government MPs were eager to hear the news about Nankhumwa’s victory.
Reacting to the developments, University of Livingstonia political scientist George Phiri said the MPs’ decision to vote for Nankhumwa despite Mutharika appointing Kasaila was an indication they were no longer under the control of the party president.
He warned that DPP was headed for disaster if the leadership does not properly look into the issues.
Political analyst Humphrey Mvula told yesterday’s edition of The Nation that the events in DPP reflected a toxic relationship among party members. He warned that intimidating each other within the party will be counterproductive.
The position of LoP has always sparked controversy. During the tenure of Bakili Muluzi, former Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president the late Gwanda Chakuamba and his then deputy John Tembo also fought over the same. In the administration of DPP under former president Bingu wa Mutharika (deceased), Tembo was also toppled from the position by Dowa legislator Abele Kayembe.
However, in 2009, Justice of Appeal Rezine Mzikamanda, then a judge of the High Court, restored Tembo as the LoP after Kayembe had claimed to have been endorsed by MCP.