Hon Folks, Public Affairs Committee (PAC) was right to hold back on its resolve to hold mass demonstrations on 13th December 2017. Since government had started tabling Electoral Reforms Bills in Parliament, kicking and frothing would have made PAC a cry baby.
Lest we forget, PAC ran the affairs of this country together with Kamuzu’s Presidential Committee on Dialogue in the interim between the 1993 national referendum and the first multiparty general elections in 1994.
It represented and safeguarded the interests of the 64 percent voters who rejected the one party dictatorship when UDF—which gave birth to DPP and later PP—and other parties opposing the one party system, were mere pressure groups. It’s not a “briefcase” civil society organisation!
Now that government has acted in bad faith and botched the goodwill, it’s only right that PAC revisit the issue and engage government on the street. It’s only because government has blown up the opportunity for a board room solution.
There is no denying that of all the five bills on electoral reforms it’s the 50+1 that looms large. In 2014, APM won the presidential election with a meagre 36.4 percent of the vote. He was declared President and became Head of State, Head of Government and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces—enormous powers indeed!
Yet, just like in 1994 when Bakili Muluzi was elected or in 2004 when Bingu wa Mutharika was declared winner, the vote of the majority did not count, thanks to first-past-the-post.
The majority whose vote is wasted—those who feel disenfranchised by the first-past-the-post system—expect their vote to count in the forthcoming presidential election in 2019. If APM or Lazarus Chakwera will make it, let it be on the mandate of the majority of those voting, hence the 50+1.
It would also be naivety of the worst kind for those in government to think the issue of electoral reforms could be settled by hoodwinking PAC as it did in December. It is not about PAC. It is about the electorate who believe the 50+1 system guarantees that the wishes of the majority count not in some (as in 1999 and 2009) but all presidential elections.
Is that too much to ask? Is APM, who has vested interest in the 2019 polls as a declared presidential candidate for DPP, right to invoke powers of incumbency to shove the first-past-the-post system down the throats of reluctant voters?
If government is in doubt whether the 50+1 system has support, why not engage Afrobarometer or any other credible researchers of its choice to conduct a survey? Better still, call for a referendum. The last time we had one was in 1993 and we still managed to hold general elections the following year.
In all this, government has a friend, not an enemy, in PAC. Although it commands a following larger, and probably more loyal, than any of the major political parties, leaders of PAC speak out only on pertinent issues, always operating within the laws, and can be trusted to return to their base when conflicts are resolved. PAC is not political.
Even when PAC, as the conscience of the people, spews out unpleasant truths, it does so in low tones with the aim of building, not destroying, the nation. There is no better alternative to dealing with grievances of disgruntled citizens than through PAC.
In case APM was enjoying ribs and onions in the US in 1992, he could ask Hetherwick Ntaba what happened when fury, accumulated in the hearts of disgruntled citizens, erupted into sporadic street riots without leadership. It made Dr. Banda wish he had not messed up with trade unions!
Kenya, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire are some of the African countries that went to the polls seeking to democratically elect their leaders in this century only to end up with acrimony and bloodbath. We are already a deprived nation but peace, though fragile, is what we have jealously safeguarded this far.
Resolving the dispute over electoral reforms amicably now guarantees a peaceful outcome of the 2019 presidential election. A stitch on time saves nine, they say.