While Zambians pray for the safe recovery of the head of state, many are wondering what would happen in the unfortunate event that he is incapacitated or even passes away while in office. Would the constitutional process for the transfer of power be correctly observed? Would the military intervene to the benefit of certain parties, or would competing factions of the ruling party try to break the rules to grab power?
A very important lesson on this matter must be heeded from the experience of neighbouring Malawi, whose President Bingu Wa Mutharika died in office on April 5, 2012. Once the new government was formed, a Commission of Inquiry was formed to investigate the circumstances of the president’s death and how the political transfer of power was handled afterward. Their final report is now available in full on Zambia Reports.
The report makes for a gripping read, as it would be very easy to imagine things happening in a similar fashion in Zambia, especially given the PF government’s lack of transparency with information to the public.
The report reads in its introduction:
On the afternoon of 5th April 2012, a dark cloud hung above the Republic of Malawi. There were rumours, shortly after midday, that the President of the Republic of Malawi, Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika, had collapsed at State House in Lilongwe, and had been rushed to Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) for medical attention.
As the day progressed, the rumours grew stronger. Unconfirmed reports on the matter started to emerge from local private radio stations, some international media, and also social networking internet sites such as Facebook and twitter. Some media houses, most notably Zodiak Broadcasting Station radio, pursued the rumours further and ended up sending reporters to KCH where the President was reported to have been referred to. The radio station made live broadcasts of the events at the hospital as they unfolded. Among other reports, the station confirmed that there were indeed some unusual activities at the hospital that pointed to the fact that the President, as it was largely perceived, or a very senior member in the Malawi Government, may indeed have been taken ill and referred there for medical attention. The radio station reported that apart from the heavy police and State House security presence at the hospital, several high profile people in Government and politicians, and also members of the family of the Head of State including the First Lady, Madam Callista Mutharika, were seen arriving at the hospital. At this point, there was no official statement from State House or from the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), neither was there any report from the state broadcaster,Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) on radio or television.
The report continues with a chilling tale of propaganda, misinformation, and manipulation – it was only two days later that news was finally delivered to the people of Malawi that indeed their president had died.
And then, of course, Malawi also suffered an attempt by their own version of a cartel that was seeking to derail the constitutional process to place someone else at the helm instead of the Vice President. The report continues:
The nation was further asking questions regarding the events that happened during the period in respect of transition of State power. It was reported that during the period there were attempts by certain individuals to derail the constitutional handover of State power to the then Vice President. That was why several people and organizations quickly moved in to address press conferences or to issue statements in support of, and calling for, constitutional order in the country. The issue of the statement read close to midnight on 6thApril 2012 raised questions regarding its authorship and intended goals. A newspaper article in The Nation on Sunday newspaper titled “DPP Wanted To Install Peter Mutharika – Ministers” quotes several individuals on how attempts were made to circumvent the constitutional provisions regarding succession of the late President.
The Nation newspaper of 13th April 2012 carried an article on how the then ruling party panicked over the death of the late President and how the party wanted to swear another person as acting President, other than the Vice President who was supposed to be the one to be sworn as provided by the Constitution. Paragraph 2 of the article states:
“DPP was so overwhelmingly against Banda that, The Nation can reveal, the party was ready to have Peter sworn in as Acting President on Friday night.”
Further the issue of the statement that was read close to midnight of 6th April 2012 was widely discussed in the press. An article in The Nation newspaper titled “OPC Disowns DPP Cabinet Meeting” with a sub-heading “Kaliati Explains Her Role in Succession Statement” stated that it was clear that there were contradictions between Government officials and the Ministers on the issue of the statement and the meetings that took place at OPC. The article stated that while the Ministers on one side indicated that these meetings took place and were called by OPC, the Deputy Chief Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Mr. Necton Mhura, was quoted as saying that OPC did not call for these meetings and that they did not sanction the so called “Midnight Six Statement”.
The conclusion of Malawi’s Commission of Inquiry report into the death of President Mutharika is remarkable in its similarity to the potential situation in Zambia, where there has already been explosive disputes over the legality of the handover of power to Acting President Wynter Kabimba and an alleged plot to derail the constitutional process by the “cartel” known to involve the Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito, Editor of the Post Newspaper Fred M’membe, President Sata’s spokesman George Chellah, and the embattled financier Rajan Mahtani.