Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Lazarus Chakwera, must have expected the moon on earth when he asked the President, Peter Mutharika, to set his feet in Parliament and respond to questions four opposition Members of Parliament directed at him.
After all, no democratic president in recent memory [some people confuse former president, Bakili Muluzi's brief presence in Parliament as a rare moment when a sitting Head of State stepped into Parliament to respond to legislators' questions. How wrong!] has honoured people's expectations and appeared before Parliament.
So, it came as a surprise to learn that Chakwera, Mzimba South West legislator and former Vice-President Khumbo Kachali, Rumphi East legislator Kamlepo Kalua and Nkhotakota South East legislator Makowa Mwale had sent questions to the President.
According to Standing Order 70, legislators are required to send their questions to the President through the Office of the Speaker of the National Assembly [of course, Malawi does not have a National Assembly, in the absence of a Senate-- and this is according to human rights activist Marcel Chisi]. The legislators duly followed the procedures and expected nothing short of the President's presence in Parliament.
But, as has sadly been the case in Malawi, the legislators' wish did not materialise. The President-- to comfortable to be taken out of his comfort zone by mere legislators] decided to delegate.
And, as expected, Chakwera is not pleased and has, again, as expected, simply withdrawn his question. Chakwera says he will ask the questions again once the President indicates that he is ready to appear in Parliament. What wishful thinking!
Chakwera, on one hand, knows pretty well that the president will never avail himself.
The President is a clever man-- if dodging legitimate questions has anything to do with democracy-- and will make it impossible for legislators to corner him and drag him to Parliament. The President may not be ready to face Kalua in Parliament. He may drag his feet when the prospect of meeting Chakwera in a public forum like Parliament is about to be realised.
The President knows that falling for legislators' trick to avail himself in Parliament would be putting himself in Chakwera's hands. And Chakwera may become the master of the game, throwing the President this and that way at his [Chakwera's] will before citizens of this country. The MPs represent the people, after all. Chakwera's hands are like a rock.
Of course, by denying the people of this country [through the MPs] a chance to get answers from the President himself, President Mutharika has played into Chakwera's hands. He has cast himself as a coward, and people may take long to forget this-- especially when hunger is stinging in the stomach and the economy operates on its own terms, other than according to Reserve Bank of Malawi monetary policies.
But that the better option for the President. It is easy, and painless, for the President to snub Chakwera just like that. Over time, as former president Muluzi rightly observed, "Malawians forget very quickly". Appearing in Parliament is like being caught by the raging waves of Lake Malawi.
Otherwise, the President would have fallen into Chakwera's trap by accepting to appear before predictable opposition legislators. Actually, the opposition legislators are predictable; they are out to get at the President. Embarrass him if they can.
And President Mutharika seems not ready for that spectacle. So, maybe it is a fair game for now.
What is needed, though, is for Malawians to fight a way out of presidential rebuffs like these. They do democracy no good.