Traditional leaders led by paramount chiefs Ngolongoliwa, Lundu and Kyungu yesterday urged the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), the quasi-religious grouping, to exercise patience in its push for Electoral Reforms Bills.
The chiefs, who presented a petition to Parliament and the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) against the background of PAC setting December 13 for nationwide peaceful protests to push for the bills, also argued against PAC’s demand to have the proposed laws presented during the ongoing first meeting of the 47th Session of Parliament; saying speed would compromise the quality of the law.
Reads in part the chiefs’ petition: “We believe there is need for more consultations on the question of electoral reforms and that issuing threats to our elected representative is contrary to the very principles of democracy that we are all aiming to achieve.
“We, the chiefs of Malawi, are of the firm view that the change of the current electoral system needs to be done after a thorough and wide process of consultations with the people of Malawi including the villagers.”
The chiefs also urged respect of the autonomy of Parliament in its legislative function instead of dictating to them.
The chiefs particularly protested the proposed 50+1 percent system of electing the country’s President to strengthen legitimacy as recommended by the Malawi Law Commission, wondering who was consulted to come up with the proposal.
The chiefs have also threatened to disrupt PAC’s planned December 13 protests.
The Electoral Reforms Bills include an amendment of Section 80(2) of the Constitution and Section 96 (5) of the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act proposing 50+1 percent majority in presidential election and an amendment of Section 81 (3) of the Constitution for swearing in of the President and Vice-President to be done after 30 days.
Two civil society organisations—Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for the Development of People (Cedep)—earlier appealed to legislators to boycott proceedings to push for the processing of the laws.
On Tuesday, Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) and 16 other CSOs, in a published statement, asked government to “diligently live by its word and take the bills to Parliament for debate during the current sitting”.
In June, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu pledged to table the bills this November. The proposals are based on recommendations of the Special Law Commission on Constitutional and Electoral Laws review and consultations date back to 2004.
Reacting to the unfolding developments, political scientist Nandini Patel said electoral reforms are a long-standing matter which is long overdue.
She dismissed suggestions that the country needs more consultations.
Patel also said she was disappointed that after the lengthy consultations, which included chiefs, someone is asking for more time.
Happy Kayuni, an associate professor of political science at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, said he was not surprised that chiefs hold “such a strange position against popular expectations”.
He said: “They [chiefs] are usually manipulated and we can suspect someone speaking through the chiefs. To say the least their conduct is questionable.”
Kayuni agreed with Patel that consultations on the issue have been wide.
He also urged chiefs not to overestimate their importance in society, saying: “I must say that chiefs are important, but they must not think that they are more important than everyone else to the extent that if they are not consulted on a particular issue, then that means there were no consultations. That is wrong.”