JOHANNESBURG, 5 August (IRIN) - The Public Affairs Committee (PAC), a grouping of various clergy, hopes its efforts to mediate in Malawi's ongoing political crisis will bear fruit.
PAC publicity secretary Maurice Munthali said the bickering between President Bingu wa Mutharika and opposition party leaders - former president Bakili Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and John Tembo of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) - threatened the nation's development.
Mutharika won the presidency as Muluzi's anointed successor on a UDF ticket, but soon fell out with both the party and his predecessor after he launched an aggressive anticorruption campaign that unsettled members of the UDF, who claimed the crackdown was politically motivated.
The president recently formed his own political party, consigning the UDF to the role of an opposition party alongside the MCP.
At the end of June the opposition attempted to impeach Mutharika, but the collapse of the speaker of parliament during a heated debate on the issue led to an adjournment that lasted weeks and delayed passing of the national budget.
The speaker later died in a South African hospital, the budget was eventually passed and the impeachment debate was postponed to September.
This week the UDF said it would pull out of the planned PAC-mediated talks with Mutharika unless the president toned down his rhetoric.
Munthali told IRIN the PAC had sought a meeting with Mutharika, as he "held the key" to preparing the way for talks.
"This morning I was trying to follow up with the president's office regarding the audience we want to have with him, and it seems the president will grant a PAC delegation an audience early next week," he said.
"We hope that it's going to happen, as all the other stakeholders, excepting for the UDF, are willing [to talk] - that is, the MCP and most of the people in the government say they are willing. It is only that the president has been very aggressive in his speeches of late - even the UDF, I think, is not necessarily serious about pulling out [of the proposed talks], as they have said 'as long as the president tones down the rhetoric, we are more than willing to talk'," Munthali explained.
He said an end to the crisis "hinges on the PAC audience with the president next week". The group is hoping that the meeting with Mutharika will clear the way to holding talks.
"We want them to end this political bickering ... otherwise Malawi will pay a very bitter price. We feel Malawi cannot afford this - it will hinder development. If anything will scare away potential donors and investors, it's this," Munthali added.
He said political stability was "very crucial to the development of the nation".
"Having said that, it does not necessarily mean we are saying wrongs should be covered up. What we are saying is, 'let us focus on what Malawi needs', because right now they are spending all their time focussing on who's right and who's wrong. The government is shouting at the opposition and the opposition responds by frustrating the government's programmes in parliament," Munthali commented.
If the crisis was not resolved soon, "we are afraid that the opposition, when they get back to parliament in September, will now push through bills and motions aimed at blocking government's programme," he noted. "At the end of the day it's not Bakili [Muluzi] or [John] Tembo, but ordinary Malawians who will pay the price."
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