Malawi's Catholic bishops have called on their government not to use its numerical parliamentary strength to suppress minority views about the way the country should be run.
"When we emerged from the 2009 elections, our hopes were high for peace, stability and development for all. Somewhat more than a year later, our hopes are slowly fading away," said the Catholic bishops in a pastoral letter made available to ENInews.
"The majority the ruling party enjoys in parliament was meant to facilitate government business and progress, but unfortunately it has bred a spirit of over-confidence on the part of government," said the bishops.
The pastoral letter also reprimanded the ruling party for disrespecting the country's vice president, Joyce Banda, whose supporters say has become the target of a smear campaign by leaders of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
Some party cadres are promoting President Bingu wa Mutharika's brother, Peter Mutharika, to replace the national leader when he steps down in 2014.
In the letter read out in churches on 31 October, the bishops say, "Consultations must give room to contrary opinions and allow for debate and dialogue." Entitled "Signs of the Times", the letter continues, "If this is not done, it leads to discontent and can also lead to conflict. If contrary opinions lead to intimidation of individuals or institutions, the dialogue that is required between all stakeholders in a democracy fails."
The church also notes, "The public media are used to castigate faith-based and non-governmental organisations that offer alternative contributions to various policies. Besides that, the private media have been threatened with closure if they are perceived to be unpatriotic."
The church says it has noted with dismay unbalanced reporting and news coverage in State media.
On the vice presidency, the church says the country's constitution recognises and places value in its office as the second highest position in the land.
"We are concerned with the lack of respect to the office and the person of the vice president. We ask the government to see to it that the office of the vice president be given all respect and necessary support," says the letter.
Banda has been vilified by the public broadcaster as unfit to become the country's president and it is supporting calls that Malawi is not ready for a female president.
The government has refused to comment on the bishops' letter, but opposition leaders have welcomed it as a genuine reflection of the state of the country since the DPP got a majority vote in the 2009 elections.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]