Two vocal civil society organisations (CSOs)—Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) and Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR)—have asked legislators to boycott Parliament until Electoral Reforms Bills are tabled in the House.
The CSOs’ call comes ahead of the State Opening of the 47th Session of Parliament by President Peter Mutharika in Lilongwe this Friday.
Cedep and CHRR argue that Cabinet’s failure to approve the proposed Electoral Reforms Bills, as pledged by Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu in Parliament in May this year, was a betrayal to Malawians.
However, reacting to the CSOs’ call for members of Parliament (MPs) to boycott the meeting, Tembenu yesterday said if legislators wanted to boycott, it was within their freedom of expression to do so and nobody would force them to do anything.
But government spokesperson Nicholas Dausi, who is also Minister of Information and Communications Technology, while wondering why the two CSOs were rushing to call for a boycott when Cabinet had not met to discuss the proposed Bills, asked for patience while government was following other processes.
He said: “I think they [the CSOs] are jumping the gun. The laws of Malawi have procedures. From the Law Commission, they go to Cabinet and from Cabinet they go to Parliament so if Cabinet has not met, why are they in a rush? May be patience could have prevailed. There is a lot of unnecessary undertones characterising the whole debate.”
The Nation learnt from Leader of the House Kondwani Nankhumwa on Friday that government was not ready with the six Electoral Reforms Bills; hence, the said laws could not make the initial list of Bills.
But CHRR and Cedep said the absence of the Bills was an indication that the reforms were not a priority to government.
The groups described an explanation by Nankhumwa to Parliament’s Business Committee as unsatisfactory and a mere excuse to further delay the electoral reforms.
“Malawians are keen to see the passing of 50+1 electoral system so that national leaders should be elected by the majority,” said CHRR and Cedep in a statement co-signed by their executive directors Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence, respectively.
The CSOs said based on government’s previous actions on laws, they suspect this is another calculated move to delay the electoral reforms process again.
Reads the statement in part: “We have every reason to be suspicious because it is clear that the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] has not been in favour of the bills and is clearly seeking ways to further delay it… This is betrayal of the highest order.
“We also call upon Malawians to rise up and demand commitment from the government to present the bills. Reforms to the electoral system are critical to free, fair and transparent elections as the country prepares for the 2019 General Elections.”
Yesterday, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) deputy chief whip Clement Mlombwa said the decision whether to boycott will have to be made after the party politburo’s meeting.
However, Lilian Patel, who is chief whip for the United Democratic Front (UDF)—a party that works with the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Parliament—said her party was not ready to boycott Parliament.
She said: “We can’t boycott. We believe in talking about issues while in Parliament not outside. Of what benefit will it be if we boycott?”
People’s Party (PP) officials were not readily available for their take on the call.
In an interview on the developments on Monday, University of Malawi (Unima) political scientist Ernest Thindwa observed that the bills would not be tabled because the country’s two main parties— DPP and MCP—are not keen to have the reforms tabled.
“Essentially, they are comfortable with the current simple majority [First-Past-the-Post] system because it is easy to win an election than the 50+1 system which will be more challenging for them,” he said.
Public Affairs Committee (PAC), which for some months has been lobbying various stakeholders to have the reforms tabled in Parliament, is also convening an emergency board meeting for the next course of action on the issue.
Reacting to boycott calls, PAC executive director Robert Phiri yesterday said the CSOs and other interest groups have the right to demand because the issues were raised during the 5+1 All-inclusive Stakeholders Conference “which was a people’s conference and not a PAC conference”.
He said: “It is the people themselves who advocate what they want to see. As for PAC, we don’t have any problem because they are simply exercising their right to demand what they want to demand and the electoral reforms is an important issue for this nation,” said Phiri.
According to Parliament Standing Order 125, a minister in charge shall deliver to the clerk a soft copy of the bill and sufficient hard copies that should be circulated to each member at least 28 days before it is first read in the House.
However, on many occasions, the government has tabled bills without following Standing Orders by requesting a waiver on grounds of urgency provided reasons for urgency and consequences to the nation are outlined.
If the government were to observe the 28-day rule and the Bills are gazetted and distributed on Monday, November 13, the 28 days would end two days before the House rises.
The Malawi Law Commission proposed at least six Bills in its report to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. n