Parliament resumed sitting on Monday after a weekend recess without a Leader of Opposition (LOP), a first since Malawi embraced multiparty democracy through a 1993 national referendum.
Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara announced the leadership of the House from all parties with the LOP missing on the list.
Standing Order 35 (1) states that the LOP shall be elected by the party not in government having the greatest numerical strength in Parliament, rendering Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which came second from Democratic Progress Party (DPP), eligible to field the LOP.
Standing on a Point of Order, MCP Chief Whip Lobin Lowe said that as a party they are not ready to respond to anything from government as opposition as he said that they are not subscribing to DPP being in power hence they came to Parliament just to pass a provisional budget.
“We have come here to discuss and pass the provisional budget, as a party. Let me state clearly here that we do not recognise APM as legitimate President of Malawi until courts says so,” he said.
In the absence of LOP, MCP will only be represented by its Chief Whip.
Speaking in an interview on Monday, MCP spokesperson the Reverend Maurice Munthali said the party will participate in parliamentary deliberations, stressing that for now, there is no ruling or opposition party in the country.
Said Munthali: “The issue has nothing to do with parliamentary proceedings, it is about who is supposed to govern the nation, it is about the manner in which the elections were handled and the way Jane Ansah [Malawi Electoral Commission-MEC chairperson] announced the results.”
He added, however, that Parliament business needs to continue to ensure civil servants get their salaries and the smooth running of other government entities such as schools and hospitals.
Both University of Malawi’s Chancellor College-based constitutional law Professor Edge Kanyongolo and political scientist Ernest Thindwa supported MCP decision, saying the party cannot be forced to be in the position.
Kanyongolo said in a telephone interview on Monday that Parliament will not suffer because of the absence of LOP.
He said: “A party can decide to take up a position or not. No one can be forced to be elected Leader of Opposition. However, Parliament can function perfectly even without the leader of opposition. There will be a gap yes but business will continue.”
On his part, Thindwa described the move by MCP as not surprising, adding that with the case in court, taking up LOP position would mean that the party has accepted the presidential results they are challenging in a Constitutional Court.
He said: “By responding, politically, psychologically and symbolically, it will mean they are legitimizing the current presidency.”
According to Thindwa, the issue is a political problem that requires a political solution as a legal solution may not work in trying to resolve such a problem.
Commenting on the matter, Parliament spokesperson Leonard Mengezi said MCP Chief Whip will represent the LOP until the issue is resolved.
He said according to Standing Orders, the United Democratic Party (UDF) which came out as a party with the second largest number of MPs in the House cannot take up the LOP roles.
The names of leaders in the house among others include Kondwani Nankhumwa (DPP), Lillian Patel (UDF), John Chikalimba (People’s Party) and Chrissie Kanyasho (UTM Party).