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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 May 2006, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
How Malawi's top two men fell out
Following the arrest of Malawian Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha on charges of treason, the BBC's Chakuchanya Harawa looks at the history of a feud between the country's two most powerful men.

President Bingu wa Mutharika
Was there a plot to assassinate President Mutharika?
The stand-off between President Bingu wa Mutharika and his deputy, Cassim Chilumpha, can be traced back the fall-out between the president and his predecessor, Bakili Muluzi, who leads the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) party.

When the current president quit Mr Muluzi's party to form his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), several senior officials of the UDF who were serving in his government followed him.

But Mr Chilumpha remained loyal to the former president.

Critics argue that the real cause of the impasse was Mr Muluzi's decision to pair the two men on the UDF ticket ahead of the May 2004 presidential elections.

Mr Muluzi, as chairman of the UDF, imposed the two strangers on the then ruling party. It soon became clear that the two could not work together.

The relationship between Mr wa Mutharika and Mr Chilumpha had deteriorated to the point where the vice-president no longer attended cabinet meetings or state functions where his boss was present.

'Systematic abuse'

Eventually, in February this year, Mr Mutharika announced that his deputy had "constructively" resigned from his position.

The president accused his deputy of insubordination, running a parallel government and failing to perform his duties.

Attempts by the opposition parties to impeach President Mutharika convinced the president that his deputy was out to get him
The vice-president disputed this, telling Malawi's High Court: "I have not deliberately failed to perform in accordance with my mandate as vice-president.

"Rather, through an organised campaign of public humiliation, the government has systematically abused me, destroyed my public image, traumatised me and utterly undermined my ability".

The court reinstated him pending a judicial review, and the ensuing stand-off sparked a debate on whether the president can fire his deputy.

According to the constitution, the two top leaders can only be removed from office by an impeachment process in parliament.

Attempts by the opposition parties, led by the UDF, to impeach President Mutharika convinced the president that his deputy was out to get him.

Mr Chilumpha would have become president in the event of a successful impeachment of his boss.

Snubbed

The vice-president has since made several efforts to reconcile with the president, but all have been snubbed.

The announcement of the vice-president's arrest therefore came as little surprise to many Malawians.

Cassim Chilumpha (from www.malawi.gov.mw)
President Mutharika tried to dismiss Mr Chilumpha in February
It is the reasons for the arrest which may have seemed more shocking.

"The police learnt that Mr Chilumpha had hired an assassin to assassinate the president and all deliberations were recorded so the police had enough evidence with which to arrest and prosecute the vice-president," Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Henry Phoya has claimed.

Mr Phoya said presidential immunity does not extend to the vice-president. He added that even if Mr Chilumpha were immune from prosecution, it could have been a mockery of justice to allow him to carry out the alleged crime before moving in on him.

Religion

The current problems are not only political. There is also the religious factor, since Mr Chilumpha and his alleged Malawian accomplices are all Muslims.

Sympathisers of the UDF - whose leader, Mr Muluzi, is also a Muslim - often argue that prominent political arrests since Mr Mutharika came to power seem to be targeting Muslims.

One of the main reasons why Mr Muluzi handpicked the Catholic Mr Mutharika and the Muslim Mr Chilumpha was so that the two would be political force.

The vice-president's lawyer, Fahad Assani, now thinks the arrests are a continuation of the harassment of Muslims by the Mutharika administration.

But government supporters contend arrests have been made across tribes, regions and religions.

In a statement issued at the weekend, the Malawi government has promised to bring before court as soon as is practicable Mr Chilumpha and any others who may be also subsequently arrested in connection with the allegations of treason.


SEE ALSO:
Malawian judge halts VP sacking
10 Feb 06 |  Africa
Malawian VP appears in court
16 Nov 05 |  Africa
Country profile: Malawi
08 Feb 06 |  Country profiles


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