By staff writer 03/12/2017
In an ironic twist, Vice President Saulos Chilima Sunday morning read an announcement in church calling on Catholics in Malawi to join a nationwide protest against the government.
The vice president was part of the congregation at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Area 18 in the capital Lilongwe, and read the protest statement alongside other church announcements.
The statement has been issued by the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) in support of the call by the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), a grouping of religious groups, for Malawians to protest government’s failure to table critical electoral reform bills in parliament.
The nationwide demonstrations are slated for December 13, two days before parliament, which is currently meeting in Lilongwe, rises. It had to be read in all Catholic churches as part of the routine to announcement communication from the ECM in church every Sunday.
As it happened, Dr. Chilima, an ardent Catholic, was the one designated to read church announcement during the service at St Patrick’s.
Before reading the announcements, he emphasized that he was only reading what was given to him to announce in the church. The initial statement is in English but Dr Chilima paraphrased it in vernacular.
Nonetheless, observers have said the move by Dr Chilima to read a statement calling for protests against a government he is part of, is a huge political statement that should not be taken lightly.
“…The Bishops endorsed the peaceful marches on the basis that ECM is a member of PAC. The marches will be held under the theme ‘We Demand Transformative Leadership: Now is the Time to Reclaim our Destiny’,” reads the actual statement in part.
There has been speculation that the vice president was being sidelined by other political figures in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party ahead of the 2019 elections.
PAC is mobilizing the citizenry to protest on December 13 over government’s failure to take the electoral and local government reform bills to parliament during this sitting.
A spokesperson earlier said the organization had given up hope that the government will bring the bills to parliament before the house rises so that they are passed and used in the 2019 polls.
Father Peter Mulomole said the aim of the protest had shifted from pushing government to table the bills, to showing anger at its failure to bring them for discussion in the national assembly.
Crucial in the bills is a proposal to introduce a 50+1 electoral system for presidential elections and removal of the right of members of parliament to vote in local council meetings.