Recently Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu assured Malawians that government will table the 50+1 Bill alongside other proposed electoral reforms in November. The proposed electoral reforms will immensely benefit the country. But having come this far on the reforms, Cabinet now has no choice.
Key among the benefits of the reforms as proposed by the Special Law Commission and being championed by the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) are acceptability and legitimacy of the candidates. When a president has the support of the majority it becomes easy to govern. No one should worry about the cost of holding a re-run in the event that the first round of voting fails to produce a president. Government should plan for such an eventuality. There has never been a shortage of well-wishers to support a good cause. As a matter of fact, government has never on its own funded a presidential and parliamentary election.
Just as democracy is expensive—which we all accept as a good system—a perfection of the electoral system has many positives for the country. It should, therefore, not be a question of whether or not the Cabinet will accept the system. Was it not Cabinet itself which mandated the Special Law Commission to consult and advise on the 50 + 1 electoral system? Why should the same Cabinet now give the impression it could turn round and ignore the Commission’s recommendation? By mandating the Special Law Commission to consult on this issue, Cabinet put itself in a trap. It now has an obligation to follow the expert advice and will of the people.
But we know Cabinet’s cause for apprehension on the issue. President Peter Mutharika was chosen by a paltry 36 percent of the electorates—meaning that the majority of voters—64 percent—wanted other candidates for president. The fears originate from the fact that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) may not be too sure if it has done enough since the last elections to turn the tables. This is especially so with the United Democratic Front (UDF) president Atupele Muluzi’s tell-tale signs he might walk out of his coalition with the DPP.
The clear questions at the back of Cabinet and DPP members are: Can the economy turn the corner in the next 18 months to sway voters; and secondly; can the swathe of votes that UDF represents be guaranteed as a ready catch for the DPP candidate in the next elections? Both are not affirmative. DPP will obviously be looking up to the gods to give the country good rains for a second year running to guarantee a good harvest. But as we have seen this year, that is not also enough to put money in people’s pockets. Government policies matter as much. Apart from people harvesting enough maize and other crops, government’s policies—such as the ban to export maize—has left millions of Malawians poorer. Although government raised the price of maize to K170 per kilogramme (kg), the majority of them are still selling the grain at K75 per kg or less. They cannot wait for Admarc which is nowhere to be seen to come and buy the maize. Result? Never in the history of this country have Malawians been so poor as they are now.
The point I am making is that what Tembenu is telling the nation that there is political will to table the 50 +1 Bill and other electoral reforms is no longer an issue now. Cabinet has no choice but to let government table the Bill.