Banda accepts deal on transition

THE GOVERNMENT of Malawi has averted a potential confrontation with opposition groups by agreeing to form a National Executive Council to oversee the transition to a multi-party system and elections later this year.

The government of President Hastings Kamuzu Banda and the two main opposition movements agreed to set up a 14-man committee, comprising government and opposition members, which will set up the National Executive Council to oversee the constitutional changes necessary to allow a multi-party system.

In a referendum last week nearly two thirds of Malawians voted for a multi-party system to end the one- party state which has ruled in Malawi for nearly 30 years. In the aftermath of the referendum the government agreed to reform the constitution and hold multi-party elections but refused opposition demands for an interim power-sharing government. The opposition, which was threatening a national strike and civil disobedience if its demands were not met, insisted on ministerial powers.

But at a meeting on Monday night a compromise appeared to have been reached. The government has also agreed to set up a national consultative council which will advise the National Executive Committee and on Tuesday Parliament will sit to repeal parts of the constitution which make Malawi a one-party state.

One factor which may have helped change the government's mind is that the European Community let it be known that aid for Malawi would only resume if the government handled the referendum and the transition well.

The widespread public jubilation in Malawi's towns which followed the vote for multi-party democracy in the elections indicated that the government was risking a violent uprising if it tried to resist opposition demands head on.

Instead it appears to be trying a charm offensive, perhaps to buy time. Even if it accepts all opposition demands in the short term it has time to reorganise itself before a general election, now expected in May next year, and exploit the differences between the two opposition movements.